University of Arizona

Monty Begaye, a UA senior studying public management and policy as well as American Indian studies, has always excelled academically.

But last spring, on the first day of classes, his focus understandably shifted from schoolwork to family when his grandfather, Henry James, passed away.

"It was just hard to cope," said Begaye, a member of the Navajo Nation and a native of Tuba City, Arizona.

"That happened at home and I was here, so I was physically here and mentally back home. It was difficult to manage, to keep my priorities in check with family and then school, balancing it all out."

Given that Begaye grew up in a single-parent household, his grandfather was a particularly important figure in his life. In addition to fulfilling a fatherly role, he was a persistent advocate of education. No one in the family had ever attended college, and Begaye's grandfather emphasized the importance of his grandson being the first. 

When his grandfather passed away, Begaye was simultaneously stricken with grief, but motivated to honor his grandfather by earning a college degree.

But, for the first time in his life, Begaye struggled to concentrate on schoolwork. That was when he encountered the Pathways to Academic Student Success, a program that assists students in need of support with peer advising, workshops, individualized planning and personalized learning objectives.

"My first encounter with PASS was really helpful because I got to meet with a mentor, who was another student who could relate to me one-on-one and knew what I was going through," Begaye said. Karen Sandoval-Araujo, a public policy and management major, was the mentor who supported him through the process.

PASS, which helps students persist towards graduation, has a full-time staff and numerous part-time peer advisers committed to assisting fellow students.

Even though Begaye had already proven himself to be a good student, PASS provided personal connections and support regarding study habits.

"It's a place where I can go and talk about whatever I'm having trouble with, and then get some insights in terms of ways I can deal with and overcome obstacles," Begaye said. "One of the things I really took away from it was organizational skills and time management."

Begaye will graduate this weekend and, in the fall, begin a graduate program American Indian studies. He has a strong interest in pursuing a career related to indigenous law at the federal level or improving higher education retention rates among American Indian populations nationwide.

"Being Native American, it's important for me to advocate for Native Americans," he said.

Begaye said PASS has motivated him to help students like him, and others, to persist in college. He now considers it something of a responsibility to pay it forward.

"The amount of resources that PASS was able to provide me with and give me access to, taking advantage of those really helped," he said. "I'd like to see more people in my community, as well as all communities, pursue post-secondary education."

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