DURANGO, Colo.—President Russell Begaye on Thursday signed an agreement with Fort Lewis College (FLC) to offer scholarships to Navajo students pursuing careers in health or exercise science.
During a ceremony on the college campus Thursday morning, President Begaye and FLC President Tom Stritikus signed an agreement that provides $2,500 per student, per term. The agreement also establishes a partnership between FLC and the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance (ONNSFA), which will distribute and monitor the funds.
Because FLC already waives tuition for Native American students, the scholarship dollars will help cover living expenses, textbooks and other student fees.
“The cost of housing near college campuses is one of the biggest obstacles for Navajo students to seek a higher education,” President Begaye said. “This scholarship will help ease the financial burden so students can focus on their schoolwork and pursue careers in one of the fastest-growing industries.”
The agreement also calls on FLC to identify and recruit prospective students and to provide academic advisement for scholarship recipients. In return for the scholarships, students must agree to serve the Navajo Nation or its entities for a minimum of two years after earning undergraduate degrees in health or exercise science.
The agreement, which is the latest in a long line of similar agreements with other local and regional colleges and universities, addresses gaps in the Navajo Nation’s workforce. By targeting specific areas of study and offering scholarships to Navajo students, President Begaye is hoping to produce a homegrown workforce that stretches across the Nation and encompasses all aspects of the economy.
In March 2016, President Begaye kicked off this initiative by signing a six-year agreement with Arizona State University’s College of Medicine, establishing a scholarship fund for Navajo medical school students. Since then, President Begaye has signed similar agreements with New Mexico State University for students pursuing careers in farming or ranching, and Fielding Graduate University for students admitted to the Doctor of Education program. In September 2018, President Begaye signed a second agreement with Arizona State University to provide scholarships in the university’s School of Social Work.
“One thing we overlooked was sports,” President Begaye said Thursday at Fort Lewis. “The Navajo people are heavy into sports, especially basketball. A scholarship in health sciences is a really good fit, both for Fort Lewis and for the future of the Navajo Nation.”
The partnership comes as President Begaye continues working to implement the first tribally operated Managed Care Organization (MCO). The Nation expects to launch its MCO in New Mexico next fall and be fully operational by January 2020.
“We are on the cusp of an explosion of health care jobs on the Navajo Nation,” President Begaye said. “Our whole health system is about to expand, and this scholarship will help feed that new workforce.”
The purpose of the partnership is to motivate Navajo students to pursue careers in the health sector, including public health, corporate health promotion, sports administration, coaching, personal training, exercise therapy, diabetes education and other positions in wellness programs. The partnership also calls on FLC to provide support for Navajo athletes and to encourage athletes—even on the high school level—to think about careers in sports or wellness.
About 20 percent of students currently enrolled in FLC’s Health Sciences programs are Navajo. The college expects the new scholarships to be popular among current and prospective students.
“We value this collaboration with the Navajo Nation,” FLC President Stritikus said. “This will bring more students to FLC who really want to get into the health sciences. This will benefit students for generations to come.”