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HomenewsIndigenousNavajo University Offers First PhD in Diné

Navajo University Offers First PhD in Diné

A tribal university on the largest Native American reservation in the US has become the first of more than 30 accredited tribal colleges across the country, to launch its doctoral program. 

The newly announced program at Navajo Technical University, predominantly based in Crownpoint, NM, will be focused on conserving Diné culture and language. Diné—a  Navajo word meaning “the people” is commonly what tribal members call themselves.

Applications for the fall semester 2023 are already being accepted and launch celebrations are in progress at the Crownpoint campus in western New Mexico.

The new milestone for the Navajo Tech, the PhD program will add to a catalogue of over 30 degree and certificate programs in: science, technology, engineering, business and liberal arts—as noted by the college’s President Elmer Guy.

Talking to the Associated Press, Guy said he believes the program will have a profound impact on the future of the tribe’s language and culture – with particular efforts put towards language sustainability, and he is “excited” to see how students conceptualize their dissertations.

From its inception, the course was designed to lead to employment opportunities and positive change for Navajo communities on the reservation—the largest of its kind, stretching across the states of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Explaining the course as a step further than calls from tribal leaders for people to protect their language and culture, Guy reflects “I thought it would be important to make that connection,” –  “Individuals will get a degree and they’ll be professionals. You have to make it applicable. By making it more meaningful, people will have an interest in it.”

Wafa Hozien, a course administrator who helped to create the program explained that approximately twenty students have applied so far. Of those, five will be selected for much-coveted spots in the inaugural class. 

The doctoral program was developed with the help of tribal elders, professors, and linguistic experts to ensure the most thorough and diverse syllabus. Additionally, alliances and collaborations have been formed with other community partners and academic institutions. Community-based research and internships will also form part of the curriculum for students to gain practical experience to apply when they graduate. 

Course staff are hopeful that other tribal universities will follow suit.

For Hozien, Navajo Tech’s PhD program represents a paradigm shift whereby learning through a Diné lens—supplemented with culture and language, gives the opportunity to create leaders who can advocate for their people in the judicial system, education, land management, business, technology, and health care.

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