Interdisciplinary studies graduate from Hopi Nation finds passion to serve Native youth


April 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Nu áaqawsi yan matsiwa,
Nu kyashwungwa pu pew katsinwungwa.
Nu Oraivit ank’Ö. ASU interdisciplinary studies graduate Daniell Albert Interdisciplinary studies graduate Daniell Albert is passionate about cross-cultural sharing and understanding. Download Full Image

Daniell June Albert is from the Hopi Tribe in Northern Arizona. Her Hopi name is áaqawsi, which translates to Sunflower, and she is Parrot and Kachina clans from the village of Old Oraibi, Third Mesa. 

Albert is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in special events management and in communication. She chose these concentrations to support her determination to make an impact with youth in Indian Country about opportunities and resources related to education.

“I found a passion in helping Native students, in bringing the resources to them and educating youth about what the 'outside’ world looks like, including the opportunities that are out there for them.

“Ideally, after graduating I would love to move back to the Flagstaff area, to work with my hometown’s American Indian youth population, providing optimized content and events that bring outside resources and/or local references that are useful in maintaining and recruiting an impactful youth networking system," Albert said.

She has special interest in developing events and programming focused on high school completion, knowledge of the many pathways to higher education and opening opportunities that can help students “balance the two worlds of cultural and modern relations.”

Albert has found that through her dedication to interdisciplinary studies, she has also been able to connect with others who want to learn more about her culture, and the cultures around them. For Albert, the best part of her major is how it allows her to express herself: “My favorite part is the creative aspect, because I get to share stories through my artwork and make connections to my culture.”

After graduation she will continue to make connections to other cultures, as she will be going to Beijing for a summer internship with the public relations and marketing company Pingo Space.

“They give a mobile platform to Chinese clients who are wanting to gain new knowledge of different cultures, perspectives and experiences from around the world without leaving their homes," Albert explained. “The company’s name originates from the Chinese Píng xíng guómeaning parallel worlds. I hope to share my own culture, perspective and experiences with the company and create events that can highlight the focus of the company.”

She recently shared reflections with ASU Now about some of her college experiences and dreams for the future.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: One thing that I have learned while at ASU was the acceptance in leaving my comfort zones and moving away from my village but gaining the confidence in sharing who I am as a person as well as the heritage and culture that I carry with me from within. Growing up, I felt myself pushing aside who I am from the cultural point of view, but once I was at ASU — which stands on the home land of the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) peoples — I felt the need to step back and realize that I am among the 2% of Native Americans at the university and I need to be one who makes an impact for all tribes and indigenous people.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because they showed a real commitment to all, but not limited to, the 22 tribal nations in Arizona. They embrace the respective lands that the university resides on, as well as making connections to the tribal communities and committing to the success of American Indian students. The university works to cross disciplines, integrate indigenous knowledge and engage the ASU community in welcoming the cultures that are developing on and off the campus.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The one who taught me the most important lesson while at ASU is not a professor but a student herself, working toward a PhD (who) serves as director of the Office of American Indian Initiatives. Annabell Bowen focuses on the recruitment and retention of American Indian students and reaches out to tribes far and near. She taught me the true meaning of being indigenous and brought to my attention the lack of resources that are out there for many Native students in the schools. She told me during a program we were doing together that, “as long you impact one student, you are changing their mindset to plant the seeds of the future.”

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best advice I’d give to those still in school is to not forget where you come from and the stories you carry with you, because that’s what make you stand out from the rest of the world, especially as a Native student. You can impact the reservation by allowing yourself to pick up every open opportunity and embracing your culture; we can balance the two worlds. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus was the Office of American Indian Initiatives, located in Discovery Hall. It is the hub for all American Indian students and it is a great place to find new friends and cultures just like your own. It has become a home away from home. I would like to thank the staff, faculty and endless friends who have made the place a special place to be.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would help the education system and schools under the Bureau of Indian Education, to guide the work in rebuilding the academic structure and hazardous buildings, to bring them back up to or above standards. The majority of schools under the BIE are held to a low standard. Students then lack the proper education and life skills to make an impact within the modern world.

Written by Sophia Molinar, ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication senior; student marketing assistant, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

 
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Public Service Academy graduate beat overwhelming obstacles

Public Service Academy's 1st graduating cohort a highlight of May commencement.
April 26, 2019

Imani Stephens is among 86 students in first-ever graduating class of ASU's civilian leadership program

The fire that burned down her apartment could have been the coup de grâce for Imani Stephens, but it didn't stop her from pursuing a college degree.

Raised by a single mother, Stephens beat other obstacles: financial hardships, a cross-country move and sleeping on floors. Now, the Arizona State University senior will close the door on her past and embrace a bright future when she graduates in May.

Stephens, a student with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, credits her family, her faith and the university’s Public Service Academy for getting her through.

“I persevered by looking at the end goal and knowing that my situation was temporary,” said Stephens, who is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College with a 4.0 GPA. “Leadership teaches you to try (to) improve gradually. I always try to be better than yesterday, last semester and last year. My goal is to improve from that last step.”

Stephens’ next step will be to join thousands of other ASU studentsAccording to Public Service Director Brett Hunt, four PSA students graduated in the fall and spring of 2018. in collecting their diplomas on May 6. Some 15,797 immersion and online students have applied to graduate, nearly 11,000 of those undergraduates. Of the total number of students receiving degrees, 54% are Arizona residents. New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks will deliver the address at the undergraduate commencement.

PLAN: Full schedule of ceremonies at graduation.asu.edu

In addition to her Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication, Stephens minored in justice studies and will receive a Cross-Sector Leadership Certificate from ASU’s Public Service Academy in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

The academy, now in its fourth year, will see its first graduating class of 86 students at its individual convocation ceremony May 4. The 400-member academy answers the nation’s call for a new type of leader: a character-driven leader armed with the courage to cross sectors, connect networks and ignite action for the greater good. 

It launched in 2015 to develop leaders of tomorrow who are prepared to find solutions for society’s biggest challenges and create a culture of service. It does so by leveraging and combining military and civilian experiences. It has two tracks: Reserve Officer Training Corps, the existing university-based program to commission officers into the U.S. Armed Forces, and Next Generation Service Corps, a program for service-oriented students from all majors to become civilian service leaders.

It aims to foster collaboration between those two groups — military and civil service — that work together in the field. They learn how to communicate and work together, and how to navigate the different structures of each group.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Public Service Academy Director Brett Hunt said Stephens demonstrated leadership qualities from day one.

“Imani looks at everything as an opportunity to better herself and grow,” Hunt said. “She walks into a situation and determines where she fits and then takes full advantage of that opportunity. Over the past four years, I’ve seen her do that with rocket fuel.”

Stephens finds that depiction somewhat ironic. She said she initially sputtered at ASU because of her tumultuous upbringing in Compton, California. Her father left them for another family when she was in second grade, leaving her mother to raise Stephens and her sister alone and without financial help, Stephens said.

Their situation grew worse with a sudden move to Florida.

“My mom wanted to get away from the situation and start a new life,” Stephens said. “But in doing so we hit a deep dive financially. We didn’t have any family or support system there, and no furniture our first year there. We slept on the floor.”

A move back to the Los Angeles area three years later was a slight improvement — the family had a few furnishings and now slept on air mattresses. But then the apartment where they lived was destroyed by an electrical fire during Stephens’ senior year of high school, dispersing the family to different relatives’ homes.

“We didn’t have much in the first place and now we had to rebuild,” Stephens said. “That was the hardest moment — trying to come back from that. Even now looking back, I’m amazed how I just kept going and moving forward.”

Stephens continued hitting roadblocks after she graduated from Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California. She didn’t qualify for the Cronkite School her freshman year because of low SAT scores and an average GPA. She also didn’t know how she was going to pay for college, much less acquire a laptop needed for her studies. Even with a Pell Grant, Stephens had already racked up almost $9,000 in debt in her first semester.

But when she found out about a scholarship offered through the Public Service Academy that covered gap tuition, it was “an answered prayer.”

“A particular scripture that resonates with me is ‘I walk by faith, not by sight,’” Stephens said. “If I look at my circumstances through my eyes, that’s when I see all of my problems, challenges, adversity and barriers against me. But when I look through a faith lens, that’s when I say, ‘I can achieve this.’”

Stephens’ four years at ASU is a study in achievement. Each successive semester her grades improved, and she eventually received eight separate scholarships to pay for her tuition. She also did internships every semester, which included stints at KAET 8 – Arizona PBS, KCBS 2/KCAL in Los Angeles, CBS News in New York, CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor in Washington, D.C., and News/Arizona PBS in Washington, D.C. Stephens even managed to find time to give back to the ASU community. She is a regular volunteer at the downtown Pitchfork Pantry for students in need.

She is also a go-getter when it comes to her craft, said Heather Dunn, content director for Cronkite News/Arizona PBS.

“One of the things that impresses me about Imani is her passion for journalism and storytelling,” Dunn said. “She works hard every day to not only find good stories to present to our viewers but works hard to find great people to illustrate the problem, which helps the viewer to connect to the story.”

As she sharpened her journalistic skills, Stephens was also getting another type of education from the Public Service Academy.

“What I really learned from them was how to communicate with different people and understanding how we can all work together regardless of backgrounds, political views, race and socioeconomic levels,” Stephens said. “I never thought of myself as a leader before but I knew I had something to bring to the table.”

MORE: Ultimate commencement guide

Stephens’ peers and supervisors say she brings a lot to the table.

“Imani is kind and she’s highly motivated and ready at the drop of a dime to do anything that is asked of her and then figures out how to do it,” said Veronica Gutierrez, curriculum and course manager for the Public Service Academy. “She’s been motivated to get out of that cycle of poverty and that space she was in before, but it’s not something that defines her.”

What does define her is connecting to other people, said Chris Frias, a Public Service Academy member who has known Stephens since she was a freshman.

“Imani is very sociable and cares a lot about people and her community,” Frias said. “Her time with the Public Service Academy has increased her scope with the issues that people face. I think it’s also helped her journalism to become more social impact oriented.”

Stephens said ASU’s impact on her life will never be forgotten, and she'll pay it forward whenever possible.

“Coming to ASU was part of my destiny and it had to happen,” Stephens said. “I’m astonished by the willingness of others to help me achieve my goals. I hope to pass that trait along to others as I move forward with my life.”

RELATED: More fantastic spring 2019 grads

Top photo: Journalism students Eliav Gabay (left) and Imani Stephens host an installment of Cronkite News from the downtown Phoenix studio. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

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