Navigating your way to a college degree is a challenge in its own right, and that’s without taking the rest of one’s life journey into consideration. For graduate student Altoveda Tortice, what mattered was showing those around her that they, too, could be capable of creating and achieving their goals no matter what life had in store for them.
Tortice is a first-generation Indigenous student— She is Diné (Navajo) of the Zuni Edgewater Clan, born for Edgewater. Her maternal grandfather is of the Bitter Water Clan, and her paternal grandfather is of the Mexican People Clan. She first graduated from NAU in 2007 with a degree in psychology. Now, 13 years later, she’s ready to walk across NAU’s graduation stage once again after completing her graduate program receiving a master’s of education in human relations.
“Altoveda maintained a GPA that has earned her induction into an honor society while working full-time, balancing mothering duties with two children and navigating significant personal challenges,” said Tallerita Tunney Rogers, Tortice’s clan sister. “Throughout all of this, Altoveda supports other NAU students along their academic journey as an academic advisor. She is the epitome of a role model.”
On top of her responsibilities as a graduate student, Tortice also is a mother of two and has a full-time job. Balancing the responsibilities of all these roles proved to be a challenging feat.
“There were times when school became overwhelming,” Tortice said. “When I applied for the master’s program, I had become unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am the type of person who needs to keep moving and working towards a goal, so I decided that this was the perfect time to begin a master’s program online as I was home with my children; assisting my then-fourth grader with online school and homeschooling my then-preschooler. One year into the master’s program, I found myself needing to go back to work as my children were back to school in-person. As I delved into training for a new job at NAU, I quickly realized that I needed to work really hard on balancing work, life and school. There were times when it all became very overwhelming that I questioned whether I would be able to continue with school.”
Despite the struggles she was facing, Tortice knew she was never alone. When she felt overwhelmed by the workload and responsibilities she was facing, her husband made an effort to take over a lot of the day-to-day parenting and home responsibilities despite having his own demanding job; this allowed her to focus on school. “Without my husband’s support and encouragement, I would not have been able to continue with school.”
Tortice said several factors encouraged her to move forward with her educational journey.
“One was my children,” she said. “My main goal to obtain a master’s degree was to show my children that education was a life-long journey. I struggled with my mental health in the past and had left my career in the field of social work/behavioral health due to the stressors that come with the work. Beginning a new career and obtaining a graduate degree was my way of showing my children that when life gets hard, you can take a step back, rest, take care of yourself, find a different path, reset and get back up again.”
Tortice added that another factor that motivated her to keep moving forward toward her goal to obtain a graduate degree were her parents, saying that they always worked hard in their lives to help create a path for her education and future. “They have always encouraged me to reach higher and achieve goals that they dreamed of; their love, faith and dedication motivated me to keep going.”
On top of the already daunting task of balancing parenting responsibilities in combination with starting a new career and continuing her academic journey, Tortice had to learn to cope with significant personal turmoil. In June 2022, when she was in the second-to-last semester of her graduate program, her youngest brother tested positive for COVID and was hospitalized. He later died.
“For several weeks, the anxiety and stress of his declining health and not knowing if he would survive was debilitating. When he passed away, I was unsure if I was capable of continuing the semester as I dealt with deep emotional pain and sadness. My motivation during this difficult time was hearing my brother’s encouraging words and knowing that he would be upset with me if I gave up on his account.”
Stand-out Lumberjack experiences
Tortice recalls her experience in the Four Corners Upward Bound program as significant from her time at NAU. As a first-generation student growing up on the Navajo Nation, her parents instilled in her the importance of higher education and encouraged her to participate in this five-week program over the course of three summers while Tortice was still in high school. “This program helped me envision and mold my future and create educational goals while immersed in math and science research on a college campus,” Tortice said. “I was able to obtain college credit while in high school and received a four-year tuition scholarship. I was also able to make lifelong friendships in the program and that is also where I met my husband.
Tortice said she is grateful to be a part of the Lumberjack community because of the values of diversity and accessibility that she observed.
“I grew up on the Navajo Reservation, which is plagued by many socioeconomic issues. Being a part of the NAU community provides hope to Indigenous people by providing the opportunity of an affordable and accessible education so people from all walks of life can work towards goals and dreams for their future.”
Before returning to NAU, Tortice had devoted her life to serving others through a career in social work and behavioral health but has recently shifted gears to working in higher education. “I initially began graduate school with the goal of enhancing my professional skills so that I can work to promote cultural awareness and diversity in the workplace, an area that I was passionate about in previous professional roles.”
Tortice now works directly with NAU students from various socioeconomic backgrounds helping them reach their educational goals. With graduation this week, Tortice looks forward to furthering her career in higher education and eventually expanding on her initial goal of promoting cultural awareness and diversity within the NAU community.
Melody Aguilera | NAU Communications