Last month, Mr. William Mendoza, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, paid a visit to the Indigenous student body at Mesa Community College’s Southern and Dobson campus. Reflecting on his own experience as a Native American college student, he stressed the importance of receiving a post-secondary education as well as bringing one’s own indigenous identity into their field of work and study.
Mendoza shared his experience growing up in Rosebud and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the latter being the poorest Indian reservation, and among the poorest places overall, in the country. Like many of his peers, he faced the ills of domestic violence and alcoholism as well as a less-than-ideal reservation schooling system which he believed left him unprepared for higher education. His freshman year, he majored in PS; not Political Science, but rather “Probation and Suspension,” as he described it. After attending Oglala Nation College, Haskell Indian Nations University, and Sinte Gleska University, he transferred to Idaho State University. However, he was still not interested or motivated to delve deeper into his academic studies. It wasn’t until he moved to Denver, that he realized he needed to begin to take his life and education seriously. He acknowledges this as the imperative turning point in his own personal growth which has also enabled him ever since to impact the lives of other Native youths.
He was admitted into Fort Lewis College after his prior suspensions and attests that this grace, allowed him to continue with confidence. Mendoza asserted that one of the strongest traits a college can have is the passion and ability to return ready and willing students back into the pipeline of academic success, and highlighted Mesa Community College as one of those institutions. Student needs as a whole are almost as numerous and varied as the student population itself. It is therefore imperative, that those who may have previously not been able to otherwise focus on their studies be encouraged to re-enter their academic careers with purpose and certainty, knowing they have the support of the staff and faculty to grant them the tools necessary for success.
Mendoza completed his Bachelor of Arts in Humanities at Fort Lewis College in 2005, and a Master of Education from Montana State University in 2010. Though he had since served as the Deputy Director and Executive Director for the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges, it was in 2011, while working toward his Doctorate in Education Leadership at MSU, that he was recruited by Washington, DC to begin this portion of his career as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. Through his speaking engagements across the country, he is able to both share his story with students, some of whom may also be at risk for discontinuing, as well as plant seeds of leadership, unity, and action in these communities. Mr. Mendoza very effectively relays his points in such a way which marries important details with deeper meanings and displays them in varied yet always relatable illustrations. It was a refreshing honor to have a White House representative with such a passion for education impart wisdom to the Native American students here at Mesa with a humility and approachable disposition which made him very well received and highly respected among all who had the pleasure of attending.
photos courtesy of Sally Mesarosh (Mesa Community College Media Relations and Communications)
1. White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. (n.d.). William Mendoza, Executive Director. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/whiaiane/advisory-council-agencies/william-m-mendoza/