Jill Biden to address NTC's graduating class

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

CROWNPOINT, April 25, 2013

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W hen Dody Begay was selected as Navajo Technical College's Student of the Year for 2007 and 2008, he challenged president Elmer Guy and the board by asking why the institution didn't have a plan to offer four-year degrees. "He challenged us at that time that he liked the school and asked the board and myself why Navajo Tech hadn't developed four-year degrees," Guy said. "Today we have six developed and he's our first graduate. It's just amazing."

On May 17, Begay will be the first student in the school's 34-year history to be conferred a bachelor's degree in information technology.

What's more, Begay, along with his 200 or so classmates will have second lady Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, address Navajo Tech's 33rd graduating class as the commencement speaker.

"It's really amazing to have the second lady from the White House visit Navajo Tech," Guy said.

The president added what may have caught Biden's attention is Navajo Tech's recent track record of success.

The institution, committed to offering quality technical, vocational and educational degrees based on the Diné Philosophy of Education, has been selected by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program for two consecutive years as being one of the top 120 community colleges in the U.S.

NTC also has an 80 percent graduation rate and 72 percent retention rate – both far above the national average.

According to the White House webpage, Biden is a lifelong educator who continues to teach English full-time at a community college in Virginia. She considers community colleges, like Navajo Tech, to be "one of America's best-kept secrets."

Biden earned her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007, with her dissertation focused on maximizing student retention in community colleges. She also has two master's degrees.

"Dr. Biden is an advocate for community colleges across the country and believes in the work we do," Guy said. "When I let the campus community know here there was thrill when we shared the news with them."

Last year, the college had U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan give the commencement address.

Sherwin Becenti, 2012-2013 Student of the Year, said he is nervous about giving his commencement address, alongside Biden.

"This year it's like a step up," said Becenti, who will graduate with an associate's degree in environmental science and natural resources. "I'm kind of nervous about giving my speech, but I'm pretty excited."

For Begay, having Biden speak to his graduating class is a testament to the hard work he put in over the last six years. He is especially fond of that day when he challenged Guy and the board to consider developing bachelor's degrees and getting them accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

"Six years ago, I was the 2007-2008 student of the year of Navajo Technical College, and I did a speech to the students and the graduating class," Begay said. "And in my speech, I proposed to the president of the Navajo Nation, President of the Navajo Technical College, Council delegates and board members of the college to put together a B.A.S degree to further my education and the education of other students on the Navajo Nation. And six years later, I have finally got my degree."

Of Biden's visit, Begay said it's "pretty cool. It shows how much our school is recognized by other people in the United States and it shows the other people how much the Navajo Nation needs Navajo Technical College and its students."

"He's a real bright kid," Guy said about Begay. "He's going to have a good career in the information technology world."

As Navajo Tech begins its new tradition of conferring bachelor's degrees to students like Begay, the institution will also get another visit next month by the Higher Learning Commission.

The Higher Learning Commission will be on site to consider granting accreditation status to four new academic programs at Navajo Tech including a Master's of Arts in Diné Culture, Language and Leadership, a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and New Media, a Bachelor's of Science in Electronics and Computer Engineering and Associate's of Science in Mathematics.

The college currently offers several baccalaureate degrees, 15 associate degrees, and 20 certificate programs ranging from nursing and industrial engineering to culinary arts.

"When we get these approvals we'll have eight bachelor's degrees and one master's degree," Guy said. "These all consist of high-level mathematics and students who graduate will have high-paying jobs and it should help the Navajo economy."

The technical, vocational and academic programs Navajo Tech offers to students are fields Guy says will prepare students for the 21st century and fields of study he thinks Biden will cover in her congratulatory address

"It's unbelievable and I'm happy mostly for our students to have a person of that caliber congratulate them," Guy said. "I know they will remember it."

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