Terry Yazzie – Fall 2013

Terry Yazzie
Terry Yazzie

“I do not think of myself as a role model, because I am one of the people,” said Terry Yazzie when describing how he demonstrates the need for a GED or higher education to his fellow Diné. “I try to instill the importance of an education, using my background as an example to influence them to believe in themselves.”

Yazzie, a 1994 NPC graduate, is giving back to his hometown of Jeddito and to the Diné through a new Adult Basic Education (ABE) program at the Window Rock campus of Diné College. He was named NPC's Outstanding Alumnus for Fall 2013 for his continued lifelong learning and service to his community. The college's District Governing Board honored Yazzie during its Dec. 17, 2013 regular meeting in Holbrook.

Born to the Tlizilani and for the Kiyaa aani (Towering House) clans, Yazzie was born at Keams Canyon and raised in Jeddito. He has fond memories of his days in the Keams Canyon Boarding School and Jeddito Public School. Even in high school in Ganado, he “didn’t fit in, and did not put forth my best effort,” not realizing the value of an education. “Maybe it was due to being in a controlled environment with many rules to follow,” Yazzie said.

Donna Ashcraft, Terry Yazzie and Peggy Belknap
Donna Ashcraft, Terry Yazzie & Peggy Belknap

Curiosity brought Yazzie to NPC in the summer of 1992 from his home in Jeddito to “find out what college was all about.” Yazzie recalls his first meeting with NPC staff member, now dean, Peggy Belknap. “She advised me through the entirety of my degree program at NPC.” Other staff members and instructors “really comforted me and made me feel I belonged here.” He also found academic freedom that “hooked me for the rest of my life, unleashing my potential and desire for learning,” he said.

He recalls seeing the college’s former Holbrook campus on Hermosa Drive and thinking “The campus is small. The library is small. There will not be a lot of folks. I probably will not be required to do a lot of research and writing here. I was dead wrong!” His first semester, all five of his classes required research papers. “I learned what academic stress really was at that time.”

His first class was with English instructor Donna Ashcraft. “There was so much diversity in the classroom, with basketball players from back east, and other students, unlike at my high school. I was a little shocked.”

After that first three-hour class, he was “hooked for the rest of my life. Curiosity got the best of me, and I’m glad it did.” He remembers how welcoming Donna's classroom environment was. “She left an impression of being a person that cared about her students and she made me believe in myself,” he said. That first English class “turned into my educational journey leading up to my Master of Arts program,” Yazzie told the board. “Education can be infectious. In Donna’s English class I learned it is okay to question the author and the theories presented, unlike in high school where everything was etched in stone,” he added.

At NPC “I learned what poverty means for the first time in my life. I came from the Navajo Nation with nothing but the clothes on my back,” Yazzie said. “John Deaton taught me there were far worst places around the world in his Sociology classes. I had the opportunity to work out of my poverty.”

“I am thankful I had many wonderful teachers, such as Dr. Marvin Vasher, Jill Diemer, John Deaton, Dr. Arvin Palmer, Dr. Gene Luke, and many more who taught me to be a better person through education.” Louella Nahsonhoya, a former NPC center manager and Board member, guided him to become an academic adviser.

He credits NPC instructors Virginia Arthur (his former geometry teacher at Ganado High School) and Angie James with sparking his interest in Adult Basic Education. “Virginia and Angie influenced me to be an ABE instructor, helping other students succeed just like how the NPC staff guided me through the early years of my education. I was truly blessed to meet and learn from an amazing group of people. They valued education and it made me want to learn more,” Yazzie said.

“All of my instructors had so much knowledge, I wanted to be like them. But I realized that we all have unique perspectives so I had to define my own perspectives. I needed to come up with my own intellectual school in academia and I think I am coming close to it. NPC laid the foundation for my academic journey. This is where it all started,” he continued.

While still an NPC student, and later while working on his Bachelor of Science degree in history from NAU (received in 1996), Yazzie served as an academic tutor and administrative assistant at NPC. In 2000, he became an NPC associate faculty member, teaching pre-college and GED courses in reading, writing and mathematics and providing placement testing and advising for students.

Today, he is applying the models used by NPC’s ABE program and Diné College – Shiprock in creating the program at Diné College – Window Rock. The Shiprock program, under Yazzie’s supervisor Thomas Bennett, was recognized on Oct. 26, 2013 as the outstanding adult education program in New Mexico. “It was a great honor to witness and be a part of the recognition,” noted Yazzie. “I am honored to work with an amazing group of colleagues – Jacqueline, Jesse, Judith and Chris.”

“The biggest challenge I see is the student not believing in themselves. My fellow Diné are very bright people and the students I work with all need second chances,” he said. “They have found a reason to make the effort and to make their dreams come true,” he continued. “I have seen the changes made and the dreams are being fulfilled.”

“I see a lot of myself in the students and I think back to 1992 and I try to create the atmosphere that turned my life around. I teach what I was taught here at NPC,” he told the board members.

Today, he is applying the models used by NPC’s ABE program and Diné College – Shiprock in creating the program at Diné College – Window Rock. The Shiprock program, under Yazzie’s supervisor Thomas Bennett, was recognized on Oct. 26, 2013 as the outstanding adult education program in New Mexico. “It was a great honor to witness and be a part of the recognition,” noted Yazzie. “I am honored to work with an amazing group of colleagues – Jacqueline, Jesse, Judith and Chris.”

“The biggest challenge I see is the student not believing in themselves. My fellow Diné are very bright people and the students I work with all need second chances,” he said.

“They have found a reason to make the effort and to make their dreams come true,” he continued. “I have seen the changes made and the dreams are being fulfilled.

“I see a lot of myself in the students and I think back to 1992 and I try to create the atmosphere that turned my life around. I teach what I was taught here at NPC,” he told the board members.

Yazzie works as their instructor, mentor and coach. “It takes hard work, commitment and determination on the part of the students. For me, it is exhausting, but incredibly rewarding when they earn their diplomas. It is my job to ensure that they put forth their best efforts and to learn as much as possible,” he explained.

Before becoming Adult Education Coordinator and instructor at the Window Rock campus, Yazzie served as an academic adviser/coordinator at Diné’s Ganado campus.

“Education made me a better person. I believe I learned to be objective and to think before I make a decision,” he continued.

“My late mother’s vision for me reached fruition when I earned my Master of Arts degree in American Indian Studies from Prescott College in 2012. Northland Pioneer College laid a solid foundation for me that I cherish,” Yazzie said. He also credits his older sister, Lorraine, who “ventured outside of our comfort zone to attend college in Colorado. The women of my family have been there to push me and I am grateful for their support.”

His service to his fellow Diné is not limited to education. Earlier this year he was elected President of the Jeddito Chapter, a Navajo Nation island surrounded by the Hopi Reservation. He had previously served as a planning aide for the chapter, gathering demographic data that resulted in a $300,000+ grant to extend power lines to 27 homes and implemented an advanced GPS system to support emergency medical access to rural homes.

Yazzie enjoys photography, reading and “old music from the 1960s, 70s and 80s in many genre,” finding comfort in the music. “I love cars, particularly sports cars, and college basketball and football.” But his greatest passions are discovering “historical documents concerning trading posts in Navajo history and collecting old Pepsi and Coke cans.”

In nominating Yazzie for the Outstanding Alumnus Award, Ann Hilliard wrote, “Mr. Yazzie is a career educator who demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning and intellectual growth.”

As NPC’s Fall 2013 Outstanding Alumnus he will receive a plaque, transferrable 3-credit tuition gift certificate and mementos from the college.

The Outstanding Alumnus program honors former NPC students who are dedicated to giving back to their communities and show dedication to lifelong learning. To nominate an individual, visit www.npc.edu/alumni-award-nomination-form.