NOVA: High tech ed offers good careers

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz., February 2, 2012

(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)

Oscencio Tom, marketing associate with NOVA Corp., chats with 7th grade students from Tsehoo Tsooi Diné Bi Olta during the College Fair held Jan. 27 at the Navajo Nation Museum.

In an effort to expand and diversify the Navajo workforce, NOVA Corp. is offering scholarships for Navajo students majoring in business, communications, computer science, engineering and information technology.

"We want individuals that are well-rounded and will give back to their communities when they graduate," said CEO John Snider of the tribally owned information technology enterprise, which provides a security network for the U.S. Department of Defense.

"The scholarship is open to any Navajo regardless of where they live," Snider said. "We want to help educate Navajo individuals in general to work for our company."

NOVA's board of directors created the scholarship endowment in 2009 as a way to provide Navajo students an opportunity to find a career in high-tech fields, including a career with NOVA.

Last year, NOVA awarded 43 scholarships for the first time from its $50,000 endowment, and this year the corporation is looking to award the same number of applicants with an endowment of $75,000.

"We need applicants. We had 90 total last year," Snider said, adding that the science and technology sectors have been well buffered from the job losses occurring in other parts of the economy. "If you learn science and technology, you're always going to have a good paying job."

In addition to majoring in a high-tech field, applicants must be enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, provide a Certificate of Indian Blood as proof of Navajo enrollment, maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA, be a college sophomore or higher, and write a 500 to 800 word essay on "Why I should be considered for the scholarship."

Scholarship recipients will be awarded a minimum of $500 for fall 2012. The deadline to apply is Feb. 29.

NOVA's goal is to provide as many scholarships to qualified Navajo students as possible, and is growing its endowment for that purpose.

"We will probably in the next two weeks make a contribution of over $100,000," Snider said. "Our goal is to grow that and run perpetually. We want to contribute to the program and eventually directly to the Navajo Nation itself."

On Jan. 27, NOVA hosted College Fair 2012 at the Navajo Nation Museum, an annual event aimed at providing Navajo students the opportunity to explore college and universities with programs in business, communications, computer science, engineering and IT.

"The purpose of today was to create a venue so that students could meet with recruiters on how to apply to college," said Oscencio Tom, NOVA marketing associate.

Over 130 students filtered in and out of the museum for the one-day event, and had the chance to interact with college admission representatives from Navajo Technical College, New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona, among other others.

Students also had the chance to attend panel sessions on scholarships offered by the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarships and Financial Assistance, student loans, degree selection, academic success, and research skills.

"I don't see a lot of events like this one gathering everyone in the same room in a forum," Tom added. "Events like this exemplify our commitment in playing a role in educating Navajo students."

One of the students browsing the fair was Michelle Weaver, 18, of St. Michaels, Ariz.

"I'm trying to look to transfer and seeing what's out there," said Weaver, a freshman at the University of New Mexico-Gallup.

Weaver, who plans to study criminal justice and become a police officer, said the college fair helped her understand the transfer process between schools like New Mexico State University and Arizona.

"I picked up a lot of information on my program and transfer rules," she said.

For Trent Johnson, 13, the fair provided him the opportunity to start planning for his future.

Johnson, who was among other junior high students from Tséhootsooé Diné Bi ólta, said he is considering the University of Arizona for college.

"They have a good computer science program and that's what I want to study," he said.

Asked if he would be applying for NOVA's scholarship in the near future, Johnson said, "Possibly."

"The main reason why we are hosting this college fair is mostly as a tribal enterprise, we want to give back to the community," Tom said, adding that just as the Navajo Code Talkers were tasked with securing networks for the U.S. during World War II, NOVA is also securing networks for defense groups.

"If you look at the country, we are lacking students in science, engineering and technology," he said. "We love for them to come work for NOVA Corp., but we want them to also have a good paying job and be productive citizens."

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