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Nearly 500 Native students attend RECHARGE conference and learn about college.
Daylong RECHARGE conference at ASU aimed at increasing Indian enrollment.
January 25, 2017

Nearly 500 students attend RECHARGE conference, which prepares American Indian students for campus life

Statistically speaking, there’s a lot of room for improvement in the representation of American Indians in higher education: Such students make up less than 1 percent of all college students in the U.S., and only about 13 percent of all Natives have a college degree.

So ASU has made it a priority to improve those odds.

“Hearing those numbers only makes me more committed to my education,” said Holbrook High School junior Courtney Lee, a member of the Navajo Nation.

Lee traveled four hours by bus Wednesday with dozens of other students to attend the fifth annual RECHARGE conference at ASU’s West campus. The event drew nearly 500 Native students into a conversation about college readiness with topics ranging from financial aid and scholarships to wellness and careers.

Efforts to raise college enrollment among underrepresented groups are central to ASU’s goal of increasing the number of college graduates in Arizona.

ASU has sought to increase the number of American Indians on campus through specialized programs, including the SPIRIT orientation program, which helps Native students adjust to college life over a two-week period; INSPIRE, a one-week youth camp at ASU’s Polytechnic campus; and RECHARGE, which started in 2012 with 90 students.

Through these efforts, ASU has a growing Indian student body. Approximately 2,600 Native students attend ASU, which saw its largest graduating class of 362 in May.

The daylong conference, hosted by the Office of American Indian Initiatives and ASU Access, featured guest speakers, including former Congressman Matt Salmon, who became ASU’s vice president for government affairs in June, and Marisa Duarte, a professor in the School of Social Transformation and member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. It drew middle and high school students from around the state. 

“Students need to see themselves on campus, but they also need to see other Native Americans in leadership, faculty and staff roles,” said Victor Begay, academic community liaison director. “When they see others in those roles, it helps them achieve academic comfort.”

One of those role models at the conference was Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and a member of the Comanche Tribe. She made a plea for students to consider a career in law.

Rosier said there are 1.3 million attorneys in the U.S., but only about 2,600 are Native American.

“We’re the least represented group and yet most affected by the law because we fall under tribal, state and federal laws,” Rosier said. “Without proper representation, we have less of a voice than we should.”

Top photo: Students listen as a financial aid counselor explains options during the RECHARGE conference Wednesday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 
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ASU alum fashions a new path

ASU alumnus has designs on the fashion world — and on @PHXFashionWeek.
October 10, 2016

Mechanical engineer finds inspiration in design, Native American culture; will show his collection at Phoenix Fashion Week

There’s really not a polite way to say this — Loren Aragon’s house is a mess.

Not far from the entrance there are several racks of handmade garments, raw fabrics and dress forms. Sewing machines, pattern paper, thread, pincushions, measuring devices, cutting tools and two draft tables dominate what was once the dining and living areas. 

His Maricopa residence has been this way for the past year.

That’s about the time he decided to turn his fashion-design hobby into a full-time vocation.

Which might come as a surprise: The Arizona State University alumnus received his degree in mechanical engineering in 2004, but the call of the creative drew him back to the arts.

“My study and practice as a mechanical engineer further fuels my artistic passion and abilities as an artist,” said Aragon, who is from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Sixty miles west of Albuquerque, the pueblo is known for its pottery and long ancestral line of artists.

“My work is a result of a combination of my artistic vision and technological discipline.”

In June, Aragon was one of 15 artists selected by Phoenix Fashion Week to attend its Emerging Designer Bootcamp. Over a four-month period, he learned the ins and outs of the fashion business, including branding, messaging, margins, profits, team building and public relations.

“We have about 40 different things we teach them in those four months, and then they are tested in real time,” said Brian Hill, executive director of Phoenix Fashion Week. “Loren has great designs, which is the baseline for everything.”

This week Aragon will unveil his spring/summer 2017 collection at the Talking Stick Resort in the East Valley, where hundreds of retailers and an estimated 6,000 people will see a dozen of his new designs. Fashion Week takes place Oct. 13-15.

Aragon’s company is called ACONAV, which represents the Acoma and Navajo tribes. The latter is in tribute to his wife and business partner, Valentina, who hails from the Navajo Nation.

The brand’s mission is to represent part of the Native American culture in high-end fashion, with the idea of evoking the empowerment of the female spirit. Their work is resonating with many in the fashion world.

“ACONAV clothing is beyond description and is different from anything else out there,” said Taté Walker, editor of Phoenix-based Native Peoples Magazine. “The passion, the care and culture infused within each piece are prevalent in every stitch.”

Two years ago Aragon and his wife left good-paying corporate jobs to devote their full-time efforts to ACONAV.

“There’s a lot of 20-hour days and all-nighters,” said Valentina, who runs the business-operations side while her husband is the creative force. “We haven’t hosted any dinner parties in a while because there’s nowhere to sit.”

That devotion caught the attention of Hill, who has become one of Aragon’s biggest cheerleaders.

“He’s all in,” Hill said of Aragon. “Loren should be doing this full-time because he’s that talented. He’s bright, focused and he has the talent to get to the top.”

Aragon has spent the past two decades trying to get to the top. In high school and college he started a greeting-card company, designing one-off cards and selling them at craft shows for pocket money and tuition. He was also gifted mechanically and pursued an ASU degree in mechanical engineering.

His artistic side was pushed aside for several years as he pursued a successful career testing vehicles and designing military seats and training weapons — pushed aside, that is, until an August 2008 visit to the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was amazed by the amount of contemporary Native American art for sale and sensed a movement was afoot.

“Native American art is traditionally basket weaving, rugs, pottery and silversmith jewelry,” Aragon said. “When I walked around I discovered graphics, painting, photography and sculpture. People were taking their culture and putting it on their art in a lot of different ways. I wanted to find a way to do that, too.”

Aragon was inspired by that visit and renewed his dedication to his once-dormant company. He branched out into illustration, jewelry and sculpting, and he even created a line of street wear. That eventually morphed into women’s couture evening wear when he created a traditional dress with a modern twist.

The polychrome-patterned dress, which he still keeps at home and loans out for special occasions, won first place at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2013. Since then, orders for his work steadily came in through street fairs, trade shows and his website.

Most of Aragon’s collections display the influences of the pottery designs of the Acoma people with traditional elements as highlights to modern looks. He uses mostly high-end silks and cotton sateens because “they give off a symbol of elegance.”

Aragon hopes Phoenix Fashion Week will be the launching pad for brand success, as each piece of clothing is “an extension of my life, love, creativity and prayers.”

His hope is to eventually have a brick-and-mortar store with a studio, where patrons can buy made-to-order bridal wear, evening attire and cocktail dresses.

Valentina says that idea is appealing on many levels.

“I’d like to host a dinner party again in my lifetime,” she said. “For once I’d like to wake up and not see a dress form or rack of clothes in my entryway.”

 

 

Phoenix Fashion Week

What: A series of runway shows at the leading fashion-industry event in the Southwest.

When: Oct. 13-15. The ACONAV show will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15.

Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 Talking Stick Way, Salt River Reservation (near Scottsdale).

Details: phoenixfashionweek.com.

 

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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