For many Native American students who go to college, the odds are stacked against their success. Financial, family, cultural, social or academic issues arise, students become overwhelmed, and they drop out.

A recent $1 million gift from southern California-based San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to Northern Arizona University will go a long way toward providing essential support services to Native American students to help address these challenges as they work toward their college degrees.

“NAU is committed to being the leading university in serving Native Americans and honoring Native American heritage and culture,” NAU President Rita Cheng said. “We are excited to continue our work with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in this new and important outreach.”

The gift will fund new and continuing programs that support NAU’s outreach to and retention of Native American students:

  • Create the Yuhaaviatam Native American Student Success Fund to provide financial support to Native American students
  • Increase the hours for the Elders Cultural Advisers Program and bring in visiting elders from a variety of tribes to work with students and offer lectures and workshops
  • Fund the Native Bridge to Success program to provide 75 incoming Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian first-year students the opportunity to participate in a four-day residential program when they begin school
  • Host K-16 students from visiting schools, youth organizations and tribal colleges and universities
  • Support high school students attending the Nizhoni Academy – a four-week summer STEM program to build the pipeline of college-ready Native American students with interest in NAU programs
  • Establish a mentorship program among Native American students and NAU alumni
An NAU student studies outside of the Native American Cultural Center.

An NAU student studies outside of the Native American Cultural Center.

“Education is enshrined as one of our declared values and inspires much of our charitable giving efforts,” said Lynn Valbuena, San Manuel chairwoman and a member of the NAU Foundation Board of Directors. “By naming this fund after our Serrano clan name, Yuhaaviatam, or People of the Pines, NAU shares our foundational value of education by including services that strengthen the students’ Native American identities.”

This is the second major gift from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; in 2009 the tribe donated $2 million to NAU for construction of the Native American Cultural Center.

Chad Hamill, vice president for Native American Initiatives at Northern Arizona University, is hopeful this gift, along with the resources NAU already has committed, will not only increase the number of Native American students enrolled, but also help them succeed in college and beyond.

“This generous gift from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians greatly expands Native American programs at NAU, enabling us to offer an unparalleled level of cultural and academic support for Native American students,” he said.