Foundation scholarships target grad students with service ethic


NAU graduate student Alvina Begay had only a brand new bachelor’s degree in nutrition when her hometown hospital, desperate for a dietitian, drafted her as their dietary supervisor.

While she studied for her registered dietitian exam after college, Begay worked at Sage Memorial Hospital, a small hospital on the Navajo Nation that provides health-care services to Ganado and surrounding communities.

“At the time of my arrival, the dietary department in the hospital was in urgent need of a registered dietitian,” Begay recalled. “Despite my inexperience, they hired me on the spot.”

Begay worked hard to fill the role, but it wasn’t easy. The department had not worked with a registered dietitian for some time, and it was behind in many areas of policy and operations. Additionally, her co-workers were older and resistant to change.

“I remember constantly feeling insecure, frustrated and afraid,” she said. “I even was placed in the position of terminating a staff member, one of my hardest moments. At age 23, with minimal guidance and assistance, I did my best to help return the department to compliance.”

Four years later, with the help of a new scholarship targeted to NAU graduate students, Begay began work on her master’s degree in health administration. Thanks to an Olson Family Foundation Scholarship, she will be able to reduce the number of hours she works as a clinical dietitian at Flagstaff Medical Center this year and concentrate on her schoolwork, earning her degree in a shorter time period.

“The scholarship also helped me cut back on my federal loan, for which I’m very grateful,” Begay said.

Begay is precisely the kind of student that the new Olson scholarship was conceived to assist. The scholarships are the gift of the Ike and JoAnn Olson family of Sedona. The scholarship criteria express the Olson family’s special interest in funding Native American, Hispanic and other students with an interest in diversity and an ethic of service.

“I have found that Native American health-care systems lack administrators and administrator turnover is very high, resulting in inexperienced employees and a need for constant retraining,” Begay said on her application. “I plan to continue working in hospitals on the Navajo Reservation and use my degree in health administration to lead and administer health care facilities and programs with confidence.”

A cross-country and track team member in college, Begay recently competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the women’s marathon. She continues volunteer activities as a guest speaker for Native American youth on obesity and diabetes prevention, continuing their education and running in college.

Other recipients of the first Olson Family Foundation Scholarship are graduate students Annel Cordero in counseling psychology, Renee Tolino in elementary education, Tennell Gilmore in physical therapy and Gerald Etsitty in school psychology.

Over the next five years, the Olson scholarships will fund four students or more per year with a $9,500 annual stipend, covering about half the cost of a year’s full-time residential graduate study. Visit for information.

“Support targeted to graduate students is becoming increasingly important nationwide,” said Ramona Mellott, dean of NAU’s Graduate College. “We must strengthen and expand participation in graduate education, which the Council of Graduate Schools has called the backbone of American competitiveness and innovation.”

JoAnn Olson is grateful that she can assist these first-year scholarship recipients and excited about their career plans. “I hope this scholarship will give recipients the ability to achieve their goals and be role models for others who are not as aware of the value of advanced degrees,” she said. “The more students who can be in this position, the better it will be for their community. It inspires others to say, ‘I can do that.'”