Native American students learn entrepreneurial skills at YES Academy

July 20, 2011

Jose Martinez wants to give back to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community where he was raised.

Martinez, 17, is making education a primary goal in his life, reaching beyond high school and learning business and leadership skills by participating in the YES Academy at ASU. He was one of approximately 20 high school students and members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community who came to ASU in July to attend the academy and learn entrepreneurship skills. high-school students Download Full Image

Providing the opportunity for high school students from the community to come to ASU introduces them to the university, making the concept of attending college that much closer to fruition.

“I actually plan on coming to ASU and majoring in law with a minor in political science,” Martinez said. His goal is to specialize in American Indian law so he can fulfill his desire to give back to his community by serving on the community council.

This is the third year that the YES Academy has been held at ASU. The intensive four-day program is hosted by the American Indian Policy Institute and funded by Salt River Financial Services Institution, with contributions from the Salt River Childrens Charity Foundation. Salt River Financial Services Institution is a tribal community development finance organization that provides services for the Community such as small business loans and financial education.

Students attending the academy work on generating ideas and solutions, understanding and addressing challenges and opportunities and developing business plans that support the long-term sustainability of their community, said Fonda Walters, senior management research analyst for the American Indian Policy Institute. Topics covered include giving an elevator speech, identifying customers, working on income statements and storyboarding a concept. 

This is Martinez’s second time attending the YES Academy, where he worked with a team the first year on plans for a sustainable restaurant on the reservation that would serve healthy American Indian and Mexican fare with power coming from solar panels.

“I learned a lot about sustainability,” he said. “I also learned how to pitch a business (to investors).”

This year his team worked on plans for a bank on the reservation, so members wouldn’t have to travel into town to take advantage of full banking services.

“Because it is located within the community and is operated by community members, they would understand your financial needs,” Martinez said.

Besides business basics, students learn the importance of planning and teamwork.

“They learn how to work in a team and begin to understand that you need to plan to develop a specific idea. These are real life skills that entrepreneurs have to accomplish,” Walters said.

Students develop ideas that benefit their community, giving them not only a project that could lead to financial success, but also help tribal members in the process.

“Then they run with it,” Walters said.

Projects developed by the students oftentimes preserve tribal culture and improve the environment.

One project this year centers on preserving Native languages. Maleena Deer, 16, is working on a team that is planning to teach Native languages on DVDs, online and in classrooms.

“We feel you have a right to know your own language,” Deer said. “There are a lot of cultures that are fading because they don’t know their own languages.”

Deer enjoys coming to ASU because it is a place where sustainability is emphasized. “You don’t really find colleges that are based on that,” she said.

Dan O’Neill, College of Technology and Innovation lecturer and leader of the new Technology Entrepreneurship and Management program, is lead instructor for the program. Speakers from Salt River Financial Services Institution and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community contribute to the program.

“I love teaching YES Academy every summer," O'Neill said. "The kids are creative and smart, and they come up with great ideas during the workshop. Their final presentations are impressive and they do it all while having a lot of fun. They are definitely on their way to becoming the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. It’s an honor to be able to work with them.”

A final event with parents in attendance gives students the opportunity to present their business plans to a panel of Native American entrepreneurs.

“They pitch their idea to a panel of entrepreneurs who then share their thoughts and provide feedback. In this way, they get an idea of what the whole process is like from beginning to end,” Walters said.

Students stayed in Barrett, The Honors College, residential housing this year with current ASU students who serve as counselors for the high-school participants.

“The majority (of counselors) are Native students in a variety of majors. They spend the entire four days with these students and share their experience of being a college student,” Walters said.

During the hours when they are not working on their projects, YES Academy participants take part in activities such as touring the ASU Mars exhibit, playing interactive games and watching movies.

The program continues to grow each year as more community members hear about it.

“We actually had a waiting list this year,” said Joan Theisen, Salt River Financial Services Institution business services manager.

Ellman is co-recipient of Nuffield Foundation grant

July 20, 2011

Professor Ira Mark Ellman, a Willard H. Pedrick Distinguished Research Scholar at the College of Law, is one of three co-investigators awarded a research and innovation grant from a British charitable trust to study child support in the United Kingdom. He and his collaborators, Caroline Bryson of Bryson Purdon Social Research of London, and Stephen McKay, Professor of Social Research at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Social Studies, were awarded the three-year grant for £198,674 ($320,700) from the London-based Nuffield Foundation.

Their project, “Child maintenance: How much does the British public think the government should require non-resident parents to pay?,” will replicate in England the empirical work in family law that Ellman has conducted in the United States. The grant will make it possible for the investigators to interview several thousand residents of the United Kingdom. Professor Ira Ellman, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Download Full Image

Current government proposals in Great Britain would extend recent policy shifts that reduce the state’s role in setting the amount of child support one parent pays the other after the parents separate, as well as in enforcing the payments. This study will examine whether these changes align with the values of the British public. It  will not only ask whether the public believes government should require fathers to pay child maintenance to mothers, it will also provide the first detailed examination of how much maintenance the public believes it should require as parental incomes and family configurations change.

The English project will use methods developed by Ellman and his American colleagues, Professors Sanford Braver of the ASU Department of Psychology and Rob MacCoun of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, for their American studies.

The award letter from the Nuffield Foundation observed that the Trustees “rarely fund public attitudes research, but in this case, there was a clear reason for doing so, and Trustees were agreed about the elegance of the (project’s) underlying design.” The study’s findings will be published at about the time the effects of new child support policies are apparent and debate about the state’s role in child support has begun. The data it provides will be an important in that public policy debate.

The mission of the Nuffield Foundation is to improve social well-being by funding research and innovation in education and social policy. For more information about the Foundation, visit

Ellman spent the fall of 2010 in the United Kingdom as a Visiting Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. During that time he presented his portions of his American research at an all-day seminar for academics and policymakers held at the Nuffield Foundation in London and co-sponsored by the University of Cambridge. Ellman also an affiliate faculty member in the ASU Department of Psychology and in the Center for Child and Youth Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.