Skip to main content

Big Achievement at ASU: Group of Pueblo Indians Get Their PhDs

This year’s graduating class at Arizona State University was special because it may have included the largest group of Native American doctoral grads.

This year’s graduating class at Arizona State University was special because it may have included the largest group of Native American doctoral graduates to ever collect degrees at one time, notes

The 10 graduates are all Pueblo Indians who were a part of the first joint endeavor between ASU’s School of Social Transformation and Santa Fe Indian School’s Leadership Institute. The program is meant to train researchers and scholars within Pueblo communities.

“It’s really emotional. I don’t have words to describe it,” Carnell Chosa, one of the graduates, told AZCentral. “It feels like a blessing and it feels, in a sense, like a miracle.”

Charlie Leight/ASU News

Cohort member Carnell Chosa chatting after successfully defending his thesis) is focused on engagement through innovative community programs for youth.

It is a big deal, as Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center of Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs, pointed out in a press release, only one out of 7,000 Alaska Native and Native Americans who reach the ninth grade will go on to obtain a doctorate degree.

“This accomplishment is big stuff,” Brayboy said in the release. “Framing the graduation and successful completion of the program in those stark terms, this is no joke.”

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment because it’s not only about statistical issues,” the program’s other co-director, Elizabeth Sumida Huaman told AZCentral. “It’s really also about the type of work they’re doing. These are extremely conscientious researchers. Their work is extremely ethical, and their work is about moving their communities forward through self-determination. When you talk about social change or social transformation, this is it.”

The graduates, who got their degrees on May 11, come from some of the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, and received doctorates in topics like Justice Studies and Social Inquiry. They all plan on returning to their communities to work.

Charlie Leight/ASU News

Doctoral candidate Corrine Sanchez left) and her mother, Kathy Sanchez, share a moment April 10 before Corrine defended her dissertation about ending violence against Native women. Sanchez is a member of the ASU Pueblo Indian Doctoral Program, which recently saw its inaugural class of 10 students graduate on May 11.

Like Chosa, who is focused on engaging youth through innovative community programs. “My research looks at what do we need to do through programming to keep our young people engaged and find a way to look at all of our Pueblo communities and bring them together, Chosa said in the release. “One of the things we did was to create a newsletter, which was to bring the voices of the youth back into the communities by sharing their viewpoints with the elders. As the world changes and our Pueblo changes, our form of engagement has to evolve.”

All of the graduates were able to complete their doctorates free of charge, with the majority of funding coming from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Brayboy told AZCentral that funding is the program’s biggest challenge going forward. He said they are waiting to see if the foundation will be renewing its grant for a second group of students.

Charlie Leight/ASU News

Richard Luarkie, whose doctorate is focused on federal tribal policy regarding the Federal Trust Doctrine of 1831, said the PhD at the end of his name isn’t going to be the answer to his Pueblo’s problems, but it will be another tool in his educational arsenal.