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ASU Looks Back on 3 Decades of American Indian Projects Work

MESA, Ariz.

The bulky, 1970s-era phones stacked in a corner of Edwin Gonzalez-Santin’s office at Arizona State University remind him how far he’s come. Back when the phones were new, he taught courses via conference calls to students in Navajo communities from Tempe to New Mexico who would have lost their vital jobs if they had left their reservations to attend classes on campus.

Gonzalez-Santin paused from answering several dozen new e-mails in his inbox at ASU’s School of Social Work to reflect on three decades of success with the Office of American Indian Projects, the oldest program of its kind in the nation.

Located in the College of Public Programs at the Downtown Phoenix campus, the office works to identify, recruit and support students who are interested in working with American Indian communities, ASU officials said, adding that the office has helped to graduate nearly 300 American Indian students in the past 31 years. That’s likely more than any other native project in the nation, says Gonzalez-Santin, the office’s director.

“I can go to most of the tribes in Arizona and find some of our graduates,” Gonzalez-Santin said. “Many of the regional directors and principal social workers of the Navajo nation are graduates of ASU’s School of Social Work.”

Along with helping to obtain academic grants for students, the office supported American Indian students in finding ways to continue their studies when cultural issues conflict with their class schedules.

For example, “the culture is very family-oriented, so if there’s an illness or a death in the family, students are expected to be on the reservation instantly,” explained Gonzalez-Santin. “I work to mediate and reduce cultural misunderstandings that sometimes occur, and this helps to increase the opportunity for American-Indian students to matriculate.”

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