Five years ago, a man had a vision of an upwardly mobile people with their own college, respect for tradition and a strong sense of cultural identity. The tiny plant that grew from the seeds of that vision poked its head above the soil last month with the opening of the San Carlos Apache College.
Terry Rambler, San Carlos Apache Tribal chairman, was the man with the vision, but he knew he would need some help, so he asked Arizona State University President Michael Crow. On Monday, Aug. 14, the college’s doors opened to its first 58 students.
“A tribal college operated by and for Apaches will help secure the future of the tribe, not just as a means for sustainable economic development, but as a critical institution to preserve our language, our culture and our history,” Rambler said.
San Carlos Apache College (SCAC) is the third tribal college in the state of Arizona, and it opened after more than two years of preparation under the direction and expertise of Maria Hesse, vice provost for academic partnerships at ASU, and Jacob Moore, assistant vice president for tribal relations at ASU.
The college’s founding president is Dr. Martin M. Ahumada, who is the recent interim president and provost of the Diné College, a Navajo Nation college that is the leading TCU (Tribal College and Universities) in the United States. It was founded in 1968 and was the first tribal college in the country. Diné College offers four-year transferable degrees.
The San Carlos Apache College will soon offer two-year degrees under the accreditation of the Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Az. It is working toward its own accreditation, however, within the next three to five years. Accreditation allows students to qualify for financial aid and to transfer to universities.
The college presently offers general education classes in math, biology, English, chemistry, accounting and computer literacy. Tuition is $34.50 per credit hour with a full-time price tag of $414 per semester.
“This is the beginning of something great. This is a way to say no to alcohol and drugs by using our minds in a good way and not abusing them,” Rambler said. “This is a way to regain respect among ourselves. This is a way not to lose our identity as Apaches.”
Strengthening a Nation
The history and tradition of the San Carlos Apache – Nde Nation is rich and varied. The name “Apache” is a Zuni word that means “our enemies.” The tribe’s name for itself is Nde (or Ndee), which means “the people.”
In order to strengthen this ancient tribe, it is critical that its members know their native language and culture.
“Being grounded in the knowledge of their native tongue and cultural traditions is important for self-esteem,” Ahumada said. “That knowledge allows them to rise to their full potential as a people.”
At the Tohono O’odham Community College, all students take classes in “Himdag,” the cultural identity of the tribe that includes economic self-sufficiency that leads to social, health and educations services that maintain tribal traditions. San Carlos students will take a similar path based on the Apache concept of Go’zhoo, which is to be at peace.
According to Dr. Lisa Eutsey, the San Carlos Apache College provost who was also recruited from the Diné College, few of the younger generation knows their language, so that will be important as the college develops its cultural studies program.
Another important task for the college is to prepare its students for jobs currently available to the tribe and take them both backward and forward regarding tribal history.
There is a large medical center in San Carlos, as well as a casino. Traditionally, however, the Apache way of life had its roots in farming and ranching.
“We want course in the health sciences and in natural resources. We want to encourage entrepreneurship,” Ahumada said.
Courage to Start a New Thing
Despite the fact that several rooms are still under renovation and additional spaces are being carved out for classrooms, the college opened its doors in August.
Ahumada said Rambler demonstrated an extraordinary vision of his own, so when he asked that the school open for the fall semester, Ahumada and staff moved heaven and dirt to make it happen.
“I wanted to embrace the courage it took to take this step by supporting and creating a college even in the midst of hiring adjuncts and doing renovations,” Ahumada said.
Although the founding president believes it will take a couple of years for surrounding communities to see the far-reaching effects of the college, he has a few dreams of his own.
Classes are held in Downtown San Carlos at the former tribal administrative building. There are also several buildings and rooms within walking distance that are being renovated into classroom and lab space.
The college president looked into the future and envisioned beautification projects that featured improved traffic controls, a water fountain celebrating Apache culture, libraries, cafes and other amenities.
“I think we are uniquely positioned to demonstrate how much can be achieved – even with limited resources,” he said.
Ahumada has held numerous leadership positions in colleges and universities in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. For almost a decade, he served as the president of the International Center for Higher Education and Philanthropy. He was also a full-time faculty member at Harvard University for several years and taught education management administration.
Cheryl Thompson, the vice president of finance and administration for Diné College, traveled more than 300 miles to be part of the opening ceremony for the San Carlos Apache College.
“. . . When he left Diné College to become your founding president, I hurt for Diné College, and I hurt for my Navajo Nation because they lost one of the most ethical and gifted leaders to ever serve our institution and the Navajo Nation. He did this consistently with honesty, humility, courage and compassion,” she said. “I have never known anyone like him. I probably never will again.”
Ahumada served as the first CFO for the Eastern New Mexico University-Ruidoso and was the first vice president for education and research with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, where he worked closely with the White House, members of Congress and leaders of corporate and philanthropic sectors.
The tribe struggles with poverty – many times extreme, unemployment and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Despite these challenges, it is the belief of its supporters is that the college will offer hope for “someplace to go and a future,” Hesse said during the college’s opening ceremony Aug. 13.
Eutsey said the key to establishing an institution of higher education is “working harder.”
She was approached by a student in San Carlos who became very emotional as she expressed her appreciation that her tribe was looking out for her.
“There is very high unemployment, a lack of transportation and a dependence on drugs and alcohol,” Eutsey said. “They need an opportunity to connect with people outside their community.”
The English 101 class is taught by a professor who lives in Santa Fe, N.M. He worked with the Navajo tribe for 27 years and deeply respects Native American culture, Eutsey said. “This is one way we are opening up the world to students,” she said.
Once the college is part of TCU, it will have access to land grants, which will expand the campus and financial strength of the college. It will also enable the school to bring in professors and teachers from a variety of different cultures and disciplines.
The school also plans to partner with the San Carlos Museum to bring in guest lecturers, art and a library.
Ahumada said he recruited Eutsey from Diné because of the work she had done there to get multiple bachelor and associate degree program approved, for her administrative experience managing about 70 faculty members and for her work in implementing distance learning programs.
Fast Track to Accreditation
The school is on the fast track to accreditation with plans to offer four-year degrees. SCAC Eutsey said the Tribal Council was very forward-thinking when preparing the charter. Instead of relegating the school to community college status, its long-term plan is to offer four-year degrees. The Tohono O’odham charter is for a two-year junior college.
Most classes are transferrable, and the exceptions will be classes created to simply meet community needs. The only two non-transferrable classes at this time are beginning computers and prep for college chemistry.
Diné College, which is one of several tribal colleges being used as a pattern for San Carlos, offers degrees in elementary education, biology, psychology, secondary education and business administration. Eutsey said before she left Diné to help pioneer this college, she was working on adding fine arts and public health degrees.
The Arizona State University signed an agreement with the community in 2013 that includes design and construction assistance when San Carlos Apache are ready to build a campus, as well as academic counseling, college-readiness and healthy lifestyle programming. The university also agreed to facilitate the transfer of students through the Native American Achievement Program at ASU, according to the Office of American Indian Initiatives.
The college a federal grant for $1.5 million in 2014 to start the college, and the tribal council agreed to fund it for $2.5 million.
The school plans to build up its student support program and facilities once it qualifies for Title III grants, which provides discretionary grants to institutions of higher learning that have 50 percent of its students receiving Pell Grants or who have low educational expenses.
Eutsey said SCAC administration met with representatives of Northern Arizona University recently. “They are looking to partner with us,” she said. “There is a huge need for a forestry program.”
The college has four full-time administrative staff, one full-time faculty (Medhat Faroque – also recruited from Diné College), a full-time facilities manager, 10 adjunct teachers and 58 students.
Tribal Colleges and Universities
Tribal Colleges and Universities are chartered by tribal government. There are more than 75 campuses in 16 states and serve students from at least 250 Indian tribes. Tribal identity is at the core of every TCU, according to AIHEC.org, and share the mission of self-determination and service to their communities.
TCU institutions partner with numerous organizations, including U.S. Department of the Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as universities all over the nation.