FLC alumna & Foundation Board member works to expand Native American education

“What can we do to help students achieve their dreams and be the leaders that they want to be, and we know they can be?” asks Faith Roessel (Sociology, ‘78), an FLC Foundation Board member since 2017. “Education is the first step to realizing a path toward your own dreams and what you want to accomplish.”

Born and raised on the Navajo Nation in Round Rock, Arizona, Roessel lived the disparities of the education system as a Native student and has since focused her life’s work on changing the Native American education experience. Her almost 40-year career in federal Indian law and policy has centered on educating the public, legislators, government officials, students, and teachers about American history and contemporary issues facing Native peoples.

Roessel’s late parents, Ruth and Robert, pursued their dream of seeing Indian-controlled education through their revolutionary work in 1966 at the Rough Rock Demonstration School, where they integrated Navajo language, culture, history, and the arts into the school’s curriculum. In 1968, they extended this dream to higher education, founding Navajo Community College (now Diné College), the first tribally directed college in the country.

“I was inspired by my parents’ approach to have Indian people self-determine what their children should be taught and to create their own educational systems,” says Roessel. “To be more impactful, we needed—and still need—teachers who understand where our students are coming from culturally, linguistically, socioeconomically, and emotionally. We need that kind of leadership in the classroom. And we need their commitment to stay. How can you make lasting change when there’s a new face every year in the classroom or principal’s office?”

Partnering with FLC to expand Native education

Roessel points out that Fort Lewis College has been a pivotal partner for the Navajo Nation in the push to expand Native education.

“Fort Lewis has allied itself with Navajo educators, establishing teacher education and training programs in prior years,” says the FLC School of Education’s former dean, Richard Fulton. “It’s very important to have leaders in Navajo schools that are from that community because those leaders know what it means to persevere. They become such strong role models for students and future teachers.”

To further that legacy, Fulton and Roessel launched the Native American Educators as Leaders Scholarship. The NAELS supports Native American graduate students who seek leadership, mentorship, or administrative positions in schools serving Native students. Since it started in 2019, the NAELS has distributed $5,800 in award money for everything from gas money to computers.

"This scholarship provides that safety net while also acknowledging that we see in these students the potential to do even bigger and better things. If we can get our young people to think of teaching as the first step toward democracy and exercising our rights, then they can be changemakers wherever they are."

FAITH ROESSEL

“When I think of FLC and Native students, I see myself years ago and remember how hard it is to stitch together your financial aid,” says Roessel. “Students in the Education master’s programs are typically older students who might already have families or be teachers. This scholarship provides that safety net while also acknowledging that we see in these students the potential to do even bigger and better things. If we can get our young people to think of teaching as the first step toward democracy and exercising our rights, then they can be changemakers wherever they are.”

To support the NAELS and the next generation of Native educators and scholars, please visit fortlewis.edu/donate-naels or text NAEL to 41444.

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