UArizona Program Serving Native American Communities Receives $1.2M Grant

University of Arizona

TUCSON, AZ – A University of Arizona College of Education program that provides mentorship and educational resources to Arizona’s Indigenous communities will extend its reach thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the Arizona Department of Education.

The Native Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency program, better known as Native SOAR, emphasizes Indigenous teaching and knowledge. Over the course of 10 weeks, the program allows UArizona students from any major to spend three to four hours a week mentoring middle and high school students across Arizona and teaching them about attending college, cultural resiliency, leadership skills and identity exploration.

“Historically, Indigenous students have lower enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in higher education compared to other student populations,” said Amanda Cheromiah, Native SOAR Director. “Native SOAR closes educational gaps by providing culturally responsive programming and mentorship that increases the number of Indigenous students who enter and graduate from college.”

The program includes a class, also called Native SOAR, in which university students can earn three credits per semester. Native SOAR staff and students also hold workshops, available to any local K-12 educators, that emphasize Indigenous knowledge and best practices to help educators better serve Indigenous students.

Although mentoring is at the center of the program’s mission, Native SOAR includes a range of resources related to recruitment, retention and career development, said Cheromiah, who runs the program with two graduate student assistants, Jeremiah Foster and Myrhea Sherman. 

Native SOAR had to find ways to offer those services virtually during COVID-19, doing so at first with funding from the College of Education and the Office of the Provost.

“Our ability to mentor online and in person really helped us create healing spaces and spaces of innovation with our Indigenous communities,” said Cheromiah, adding that students and educators in rural areas had asked for better access to technology and online resources. “Being able to reach our remote communities has been very special.”

The new funding will help the program continue to reach those communities. Over three years, Native SOAR will purchase 750 tablets, which will be loaded with mentoring resources, for middle and high school students. The program will purchase an additional 65 tablets for program staff and educators. 

Native SOAR will also be able to offer more workshops and professional development opportunities to K-12 educators. One such event, brought educators from Southern Arizona school districts and tribal education offices to the UArizona campus.

The grant will also allow the program to continue paying its mentors, who earn a salary for their work.

“For nearly two decades, Native SOAR has been an invaluable resource for Indigenous students at the University of Arizona, as well as Indigenous communities across the state,” said Robert C. Robbins, University of Arizona President. “This new funding from the state will allow this crucial program to reach more people. I am incredibly grateful to our outstanding Native SOAR faculty and staff, and I am so proud the University of Arizona is a leader in this work.”