CROWNPOINT, NM – On December 9, 2016 Navajo Technical University conferred 117 degrees and certificates, including a Master of Arts degree in Diné Culture, Language & Leadership when Aurelia Yazzie of Sheep Springs, NM received her degree.
Yazzie became the second student to earn the graduate degree from NTU after Perry R. James of Continental Divide, NM received the degree in May. Like James, Yazzie was appreciative of the program and enjoyed the approach it took in blending Western education with traditional values and thought.
“The program goes in depth about what it really means to uphold traditional values and to learn and teach from that perspective,” explained Yazzie, whose clans are Bit’ahnii born for Tsi’naajinii. “A lot of information I learned was so overwhelming, especially from the people who know these things and have lived through it. It was just a wealth of information that I never knew and it caused me to look at my life differently and the way I teach.”
Yazzie worked 20 years in the education field prior to enrolling at NTU having spent 17 years at To’haali’ Community School in Newcomb, NM and another two years at Ch’ooshgai Community School in Tohatchi. She also worked five years teaching at various satellite sites for Diné College, where she had earned her A.A. degree in Diné Studies before obtaining an undergraduate degree in Bilingual Education from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO.
As an educator, Yazzie appreciated the fluidity of NTU’s master’s program and its appeal to people of all backgrounds and professions. “The master’s program could be looked at from every angle,” explained Yazzie, who wrote her thesis on Diné Bi Beehas’aanii Bitsi Silei: Parenting Skills Utilizing Navajo Perspective. “From my stance it was from an educational and parenting perspective whereas another student may see it from an environmental point of view or another student sees it from things that are going on within the community. It was a lot of good information.”
Prior to enrolling at NTU Yazzie explored several other programs for an advanced degree but every program she came across was focused solely on curriculum, which after 20 years of teaching, Yazzie felt she already knew. Additionally, the cost of attending a larger university for a graduate degree was something that weighed heavily on her mind.
“The cost of attending Western University or UNM was crazy, sometimes anywhere between $300-$400 for one credit hour,” stated Yazzie. “NTU wasn’t too expensive, but at the same time, I was really interested in making a contribution to the Navajo Nation with what I know.”
“Especially teaching Navajo children,” Yazzie continued. “I need to know where they’re coming from and what their values are order to understand what these kids go through having to function in Western society while juggling the traditional ways of life.”
Now that Yazzie has received her degree she plans to continue working for Cho’ooshgai Community School where she will focus more on being cognizant of the traditional values of her students in order to be a more effective instructor. Such a stance is something that she valued during her time at NTU, which she believes sets it apart from other graduate programs.
“I could’ve gotten a master’s degree from anywhere else, but it wouldn’t be as meaningful as what I learned here,” said Yazzie. “I think that’s why it’s meaningful, because it’s from a traditional sense and identifies who I am and have been all this time. Now that this knowledge is in my head I can share it with other people.”