CROWNPOINT, NM – Students at Navajo Technical University found success at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s annual student conference, while engaging in scholarship and competition with the 36 other tribal colleges and universities that make up AIHEC.
The conference took place March 18-21 at the Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City, SD, and began with a poetry slam that was won by NTU Environmental Science and Natural Resources major Brett German of Palm Bay, FL. A poetry slam is an elimination round competition where performance artists read or recite original works of poetry. The AIHEC competition lasted four rounds, which German used to tell his mother’s story as a stolen child during the federally funded Indian Adoption Project of the 1950s and 60s when she was put up for adoption under forced signatures.
“It’s a very inspirational story even though it’s a very sad story. It’s also a historic story because not many people remember the stolen children of the Navajo,” reflected German, who used improvisational rhyme to honor the story of his mother, who passed last October. “I wasn’t expecting to get first place. I was more just trying to get mom’s story out there. After my fourth [poem] I was very emotional, but it felt like I was finally letting go.”
Another student who had a story to tell was IT - New Media major Felicia Chischilly, who earned recognition for an animation film she created depicting a traditional Navajo story told to her by her grandfather. The film, “Rabbit and Coyote – The Moon,” placed second overall at the festival, but took home the coveted “People’s Choice” award. Chischilly created her film using Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and GarageBand to bring her grandfather’s story to life. The quality of the production landed Chischilly recognition for “Best Animation” and the “Director’s Award,” while her classmate Wade Shannah received the honor of “Best Special Effects” for his horror film, “The Unknowns.”
NTU took top honors in the team design category in the Web design competition, avenging the previous year when they failed to place due to technical difficulties that forced their page to crash. The team of Aaron Huber, Tex Etsitty, Erin Toadlena, Felicia Trebian, and Anfernee Kirk won this year’s competition with their webpage promoting NTU’s STEAM tutoring lab, while the team of first year Web designers Nylana Murphy, Kelby Spencer, Joel Yazzie, Wynona Wilson, Ariel Dolfin, and Charleston Morgan placed second for a health club website they designed to promote NTU’s Wellness Center and healthy living.
Both teams received high marks for the aesthetics of their design, and each were praised for the functionality of their webpages and the unique programming that was utilized. The first place team, for example, created a software bundle known as a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) server, which allowed the students to connect their website to a database to send and receive data for purposes of scheduling tutoring help with an online form.
“I just let them do it,” NTU’s Web design coach Mark Trebian stated, who was proud of his student’s knowledge of CSS, HTML, and Java Script programming. “All I did was make suggestions and they just went with it so I’m very pleased. They weren’t nervous, they went in confident, and they came out winners.”
Also emerging as a winner was NTU’s two-time undefeated co-ed volleyball team. The team continued their dominance at the AIHEC conference winning in straight sets over Little Priest Community College, Little Big Horn College, Turtle Mountain Community College, and both of Oglala Lakota College’s teams. NTU’s string of unbeaten sets dates back to last year’s championship run in which returning veterans Tyson Ramone, Jess James, Byron Dawes, Amberlynn Begay, and Dalyna Hannah began the current streak. This year saw the addition of newcomers Felicia Chischilly, Thomas Nimrod, and Robyn Hubbell, who acclimated well with the returning group. In the semifinals of the tournament, the Skyhawks had a tough fought match with Turtle Mountain, but came out on top 18-15 and 19-13 in a timed game. In the championship round, NTU took down Oglala Lakota College 25-9 and 25-13 effectively bringing the championship back to Crownpoint.
“It feels great because we wanted to win again,” explained Pre Nursing major Byron Dawes, who was one of five players who will be graduating this year. “It was our last year, but it was fun competing.” Although they fell short of a championship, the NTU archery team also competed well by placing second in both the men and women’s team divisions. NTU’s top archer was Rashaundal Combs of Round Rock, AZ, who placed second with an overall score of 284 behind Darwin Doney of Aaniiih Nakoda College. Combs’ score, along with the tallies from teammates Keanu Jones, Steven Bitah, Samson Arviso, and Shawndell Francis, helped elevate NTU to a second place finish behind Oglala Lakota College. While the NTU women’s team didn’t place an individual in the top three standings, they did stay consistent throughout the 25-round 3D shoot and the unit of Dana Nez, Kay Mariano, Darreth Johnson and Cante’ Skuya Brown placed second behind Sinte Gleska University of Mission, SD.
“In the past we’ve done very well, but the last year or two we’ve dropped off,” explained AIHEC archery coach Collins Woody, who was assisting the team since archery coach Clyde Henderson couldn’t make the trip. “Now to have NTU win again it’s a good feeling, especially for the students and shooters. They’re the ones we’re here for.”
Also receiving recognition at the 2017 AIHEC conference for NTU included Environmental Science and Natural Resources major Shawna Begay, who placed third in the Science Oral Presentation competition for her research titled, “Toxicity Measurements in Snowfall on the Navajo Nation.” Law advocate major Shawna Whitman also received recognition for her written piece in the Tribal College Journal’s 2017 Student Creative Writing Contest earning honorable mention.