More College and Career Readiness for Native Students

This summer, PWNA partnered with NABI Nation during the 2022 Native American Basketball Invitational (aka NABI Week) to sponsor college and career readiness events for over 1,300 Native student athletes. As the tournament was playing out over five days in Phoenix, Arizona, PWNA and our American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program hosted back-to-back events to drive academic and professional development for these students. The fundamentals of an education are critical at a young age and only half of Native students who start kindergarten will go on to graduate high school, let alone attend college. In addition, some education barriers are unique to Native students, and incredible opportunities like NABI help address this.

Kicking off the week with the NABI College & Career Fair, we staffed a table with information on AIEF scholarships for students interested in attending a university, community college, tribal college or vocational trade school. Only 16% of Native Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, so it was encouraging that AIEF information reached the youth in attendance. Excited students stopped to talk with staff, learned about the scholarships and provide their contact information for more guidance on their next steps.

The career fair was followed by the NABI Educational Youth Summit with words of wisdom from diverse Native leaders. PWNA president and CEO Joshua Arce (Potawatomi) started the series, giving a nod to Native beauty, knowledge and resilience, then introduced Shawn Martinez, Senior Director of Live Presentations for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury basketball teams. Shawn (Navajo) immediately connected with the audience by reviewing his career as a DJ, how to overcome obstacles in pursuit of a passion and the role of education in success. He advised, “Education and grades are important. They will open more doors than you think.”  

After an encouraging welcome from Governor Stephen Lewis (Gila River) and a message from Phoenix College Student Services Director Michael Matos on finding a path to college, Josh returned for a presentation on leadership development. Relating to the students through his own love of basketball and hip-hop, Josh underscored the importance of understanding one’s identity and finding a recipe for success – from taking risks to being accountable and spiritually centered. “Our nations absolutely need you,” he said, “and your peers need you as well.” Sharing his thoughts on education and goal setting, he emphasized, “The only place where reward comes before work is in the dictionary.”

The summit included two training sessions on digital skills as part of the Grow With Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program. Because two-thirds of all new jobs created since 2010 require at least medium-level digital skills, Google aims to ensure Native American students have access to digital skills to thrive in the workforce.

AIEF alumni Valeriah Big Eagle talked about funding. She shared, “the statistics are already against you — focus on your classes and your schooling. Speak from your heart and tell your story.”  The youth also heard from pro basketball player and NABI alum Analyss Benally, who highlighted her career and advice on transitioning from rez basketball to the pros, stressing how the only way to get there is through schoolwork and encouraging students to be resilient.

PWNA is proud to partner with NABI to encourage these Native student athletes to look ahead to their next steps. You can help students like these – “the future of Indian country” – when you donate to AIEF.

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