Tuition waivers, valued at over $20,000, have been awarded to nine students from Northland Pioneer College (NPC), to complete their bachelor’s degrees at one of Arizona’s three public universities. The Arizona Board of Regents awards waivers, for up to 60 credits, to encourage the state’s top scholars to finish their educations as members of the All-Arizona Academic Team. To be eligible, a student must have a cumulative 3.5 or higher grade-point average, be working toward an associate degree, and demonstrate college or community volunteerism and leadership.
Receiving tuition waivers are NPC students Jaden Martinez and Sara Chevalier of Show Low, Jillian Henry of Whiteriver, Kayla Mason and Camille Shumway of Snowflake, Cassey Drew of St. Johns, Arina Mortensen and Ashley Myers of Springerville/Eagar and Simone Jean, of Keams Canyon (Hopi center). These students will also receive individual scholarship awards from NPC.
Recipient Jaden Martinez was born and raised in Snowflake and is a first-generation college student. He suffered the loss of his brother, who died much too soon in 2012. It was a pivotal time for Martinez and his family. Despite the grief, he said, “When you face challenges, there are two ways you can go about it; nowhere, or onward. You have to get up, dust yourself off, and move forward. It’s because of the hard times that I am who I am. It’s the gas in my tank that keeps me pushing on. It’s my motivation to do better.” Instead of playing sports in high school, Martinez started his own landscape business, which he still owns. However, he knew that landscaping wasn’t his true calling. He wanted a career helping people and working to save people’s lives. Martinez is currently employed as a medical tech in the emergency department at Summit Healthcare and is enrolled in NPC’s nursing program full-time. “I am right where I need to be,” he said. “I love it. I wake up every day wanting to go to work. It doesn’t feel like work to me.” Martinez plans to continue his studies and transfer to Arizona State University (ASU) to complete his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. He would like to eventually become an emergency care or flight nurse working with critical care patients in need of transport. He plans to stay in the area and provide care to the rural communities of Northeast Arizona.
Fellow recipient Sara Chevalier, also of Show Low, is in her first year of NPC’s nursing program. She plans to enroll at ASU concurrently while finishing her associate degree from NPC. She is the youngest student in her nursing cohort and said that being the youngest in the group motivates her to prove to herself and others that she can surpass expectations. Chevalier is no stranger to hard work. During her sophomore year, after losing valuable class time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said she found herself struggling with school. She soon realized that she was not alone. She was determined to make her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse a reality. Chevalier enrolled in dual credit high school college courses and began working with classmates to build a sort of team, finding better ways to study and develop skills. “Together we pushed each other, learned from each other, and did not let the setback derail our education.” She said, “I am a hard worker and I love to help people. I enjoy building genuine relationships with patients and earning their trust. I always want to provide a personal touch to my patients and advocate for them.”
For recipient Jillian Henry of Whiteriver, improving the lives of others is paramount. Having grown up on the reservation, she knows what it means to struggle. She also knows the value of education. She gave birth to her first son during her freshman year of college and was forced to drop out to support him. She fought her way back. By working low-paying jobs and putting on yard sales, she saved every extra cent she could to go back to school. She did just that and earned an Associate of Science degree in Medical Assisting from NPC. “I wanted to be a good role model to my son; to show him that even with challenges in life, you can never give up on your dreams and goals. With an education, anything is possible.” She then went back to NPC and will now graduate with her second degree in medical office administration. “My parents have always stressed the value of education,” she said. “They’ve always told me that the only thing that can never be taken from you is your education.” After being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes in 2020, Henry says it has motivated her to advocate for the health of others. She plans to enroll in ASU’s College of Health Solutions and earn a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. “Native Americans are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease,” she explained. “I want to eventually work with Indian Health Services on the White Mountain Apache Tribe to help young people in my community understand how important it is to be healthy.”
All-AZ recipient Ashley Myers of Eager is also no stranger to hard times; or to working hard to defeat obstacles. For Myers, becoming a mother was a catalyst for making major life changes. “I had to finally admit to myself the hard truth, that I had become something I never thought I could be… an addict,” she explained. “It was absolute hell… every minute… of every day. When I finally decided I was done, it was harder to get away than I imagined. It was the most painful thing, both mentally and physically, that I have ever been through,” she said. “But I worked hard, and I have made it through.” Now sober for six years, Myers will earn her associate degree from NPC this spring. “The reason education and getting my degree is so important to me is because I have worked so hard to get here,” she said. “I took one class at a time, then added another and then another, and worked harder and harder all while working to provide for my son,” she said. “I have become a better person for it in so many ways.” Myers plans to enroll in ASU’s Counseling and Applied Psychological Science program. She hopes to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology and wants to help former and current addicts through their journey to sobriety. “This is my life’s calling, and I believe I can make a real impact on the lives of others.”
Recipient Cassey Drew of St. Johns also has a passion for helping people overcome personal hurdles. She is dyslexic and suffers from ADHD. In addition, after years of suffering massive migraine headaches, symptoms of blindness, extreme pain, and a slew of other ailments, she was diagnosed with a rare brain condition called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH). “I was told that I may not live past 25 and would not be able to see or hear anything past the age of 20,” she explained. After the diagnosis, a shunt was placed at the base of her neck to release cerebral spinal fluid from her skull. Intent on persevering, Drew said, “I have taken a “challenge accepted” outlook on life. I have a strong personality that will not let me give up. It has served me well throughout my life,” she said. “I have discovered that there is a world full of opportunities out there.” Having dealt with disability throughout life, Drew is determined to help others. She currently works with young adults in the special education classroom at St. Johns High School. She will graduate from NPC this spring with her associate degree in education. Drew plans to attend ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College to pursue her bachelor’s, and eventually a master's degree in special education. She plans to continue working with young adults in the special education classroom to overcome disability, develop their skills, and reach their greatest potential.
Fellow education major Arina Mortensen of Eagar shares her teammate's passion for teaching. She currently works as an art teacher at Round Valley High School. “What motivates me to succeed is knowing that I can change,” she said. In her forties, Mortensen had pretty much given up on obtaining a college education. “I raised four kids and was a stay-at-home mom for over twenty years. I had self-doubt and didn’t think that I could do it,” she explained. She then witnessed something of a higher calling. “One day I decided to take a hike by myself, and I prayed for direction. I felt like God was telling me to do something more in my life; like I had a higher purpose,” she explained. A path opened for her through that prayer. During the pandemic, Mortensen was invited to start working at Round Valley High School as an emergency art teacher. She began taking college courses through NPC, found encouragement from her instructors, and realized that she wanted to be the kind of teacher who truly inspires students. She said, “I want to be a teacher who cares and is invested.” She is well on her way. Mortensen plans to attend ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College and earn her bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She will continue working at Round Valley High School. “There’s a reason why I am here. I’m supposed to be here,” she said. “I want my students to know that they too can overcome their fears. You can be a victim, a survivor, or decide to be the hero of your own story.”
According to All-AZ awardee Kayla Mason of Snowflake, heroes surround her. They are her family, and they push her to succeed every day. Kayla is the baby in the family. She has six older siblings, including two brothers, one sister, and three older stepsisters. “My family has always pushed me to excel,” she said. “I’ve grown up witnessing their triumphs and success in the lives they’ve created. Their accomplishments and resilience, serve as motivation,” she said. “They embody hard work, leadership, and a remarkable ability to navigate life’s complexities.” For Mason, life has not been without complexities. At the beginning of the fall semester, she lost her biological father to suicide. “I was forced to grow up fast,” she said. As the only immediate biological family member on her father’s side, Mason had to handle his affairs. “It took a toll,” she said. “I saw a decline in my mental health and my anxiety soared, impacting my academic focus… my grades began to slip, and the stress of not performing as well as knew I could, became overwhelming.” Her family pushed her through. “Their resilience has taught me that setbacks are temporary; that with determination and dedication, I can overcome any obstacle and succeed,” she said. The experience also taught Mason the importance of self-compassion. “Learning to navigate adversity while maintaining mental well-being has been an important lesson in my journey.” Mason plans to attend ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business. She will pursue a degree in marketing and hopes to work as an agent at a major firm one day. “I saw a job posting for a marketing position with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and thought, wow, that sounds like fun.” She laughed, “Hmm… maybe one day.”
All-AZ recipient Camille Shumway, of Snowflake, is the middle child of nine. Growing up, her family was forced to separate from the faith-based community they had come to know. In sixth grade, Shumway and her family opted for homeschooling. “It was hard. I thought I wouldn’t be able to make friends,” she said. She found out that wasn’t the case. “I realized that not everyone judges and that there are good people everywhere,” she said. “It opened my eyes to not be so quick to judge, and to learn to understand someone before making assumptions about them; to get to know them for who they are.” She explained, “It’s taught me to be empathetic to others and accepting of people’s differences.” Although Shumway said she was not originally a fan of school, during her freshman year of high school, her mother encouraged her to begin taking college-level courses through NPC. “I slowly began to love learning,” she said. Shumway graduated high school this past May and will earn her Associate of Arts degree from NPC this spring. “Throughout my life, my parents have pushed me to do my very best. They’ve taught me to work hard and have encouraged me to be an independent thinker,” she said. “Our family likes to share ideas and discuss issues. I started getting better at looking at things from a different angle and debating ideas. I’ve always been someone who enjoyed listening to and learning things from others, and making my case,” she said. “I think I would enjoy doing it as a career.” Shumway plans to continue her studies, earn her bachelor’s degree, and eventually go to law school.
Awardee Simone Jean has been homeschooled throughout high school. She is taking dual enrollment college courses through NPC and will be graduating with her associate degree in the spring. “I am grateful to NPC for this opportunity,” she said. Jean was able to complete her studies at NPC completely online. At seventeen years old, she is excited to be completing high school and her associate degree simultaneously. Though not a native of Arizona, her parents accepted jobs in the educational field bringing their family to the Grand Canyon State. Living in Arizona for a few years has opened opportunities for Simone, like attending NPC, volunteering in her community, and learning about native cultures. She plans to attend ASU and earn a bachelor’s degree in the field of computer engineering. After completing her degree, she hopes to become a leading professional in her field. “I want to be an important part of the world’s technological advancements,” she said, “It is always changing and there’s always something new to try and figure out; to make and discover. I want to be part of that.”
These NPC students, along with other top community college scholars from around the state, will be honored at a luncheon and awards presentation held in their honor on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, in Tempe AZ. For the past 28+ years, Arizona has separately recognized the state’s top two-year college students as a part of the All-USA Academic Team program, co-sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges, Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society (PTK), Follet Higher Education Group, the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation and USA Today.
To learn more about NPC’s All-AZ academic team program, details on the scholarship, and a complete list of past NPC recipients, visit www.npc.edu/past-AllAZ.