How Native American Students Can Get College Scholarships in Arizona

Recipients of college scholarships from Education Forward Arizona and Freeport-McMoRan pose for a photo. (Photo courtesy of Duality Public Relations)

By Alyssa Bickle

June 2, 2023

This scholarship provides the opportunity for Indigenous students to receive funding for their education and connect with mentors along the way. 

Like thousands of Arizonans, Dani Kouyoumdjian worked full-time while dealing with a heavy college course load.

She was able to manage the hectic schedule while attending Tohono O’odham Nation Community College, but when she was accepted to study law and American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, she realized she could no longer do both.

“The reality is, especially in the law program, you need at least 30 hours a week for outlines, for studying, for just all of the workload, and on top of working 40 hours a week, that was going to be impossible,” Kouyoumdjian said.

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Cue Education Forward Arizona, an educational mentorship program that facilitates scholarship programs between private businesses and students. The organization overall has a 74% graduation rate.

Kouyoumdjian came across one of EFA’s scholarships offered to Native American college students that offered both financial assistance and educational guidance. Through it, Kouyoumdjian and hundreds of other Indigenous students have received college assistance since 2020.

Kouyoumdjian’s scholarship is part of a partnership between EFA and Freeport-McMoRan, where they manage all applications and the scholarship program for the company. Freeport-McMoRan has invested almost $9 million dollars since they started the scholarship program five years ago.

“It appeared to me that Freeport-McMoRan, who is an international mining company, seemed generally invested in working with Native communities, which impressed me because of the rather unsavory, shall we say, reputation that mining companies have. It seems like a departure from the norm,” Kouyoumdjian said.

She was intrigued by the fact that a mining company, many of which have a history of pursuing mining projects without giving regard to the Indigenous people that originally occupied the area, was giving scholarships specifically to Native American students. 

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In 2012, the state of Arizona and the federal government claimed Freeport-McMoRan polluted natural resources near the largest copper mine in Arizona, Morenci Mine, ending with the corporation paying a $6.8 million fine.

Another mining company, Resolution Copper, has been wrapped up in a fight with the federal government to obtain Arizona’s Oak Flat, an area of land sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, for a mining operation that would collapse the site into a large crater. 

Native American college students in Arizona who are enrolled in select tribal communities can apply for the Freeport-McMoRan Native American College Scholarship Program to receive financial assistance and educational guidance. 

The scholarship program prioritizes students from the Hualapai Tribe, Navajo Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, and White Mountain Apache Tribe, but students from the following tribal communities are still eligible: Ak-Chin Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community, Hopi Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Tonto Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe, and Zuni Pueblo.

Students enrolled in the tribal communities that Freeport-McMoRan has direct mining operations in are given priority in scholarship selection, said Myrna Cardenas, senior director of Success Services at Education Forward Arizona.

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To stay in the scholarship program, students need to keep a 2.5 GPA, stay enrolled in an accredited school (in state or out of state), meet with their success advisor at least twice a semester, and attend the events planned by Education First Arizona, Cardenas said. Some of the events include campus networking, social events, and a mandatory yearly symposium with food, guest speakers, and resume workshops.

As long as students continue to meet the criteria, their scholarship is automatically renewed and they do not need to reapply each semester or each year, Cardenas said. 

Viktoras Sangster-Biye, a student at University of Arizona and member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, learned about the scholarship through his high school counselor when he was a senior at Globe High School. 

“This scholarship is able to help me in terms of covering my tuition and having funding for off-campus living,” Sangster-Biye, who is studying physiology and medical sciences. said. “I’m able to pay for my rent, my utilities and everything and even my food for the fiscal year.” 

Working With Advisors 

Participating in this scholarship program means students must work with a success advisor on a consistent basis. 

“It’s very comforting to know that someone is out there looking out for your success,” said Sangster-Biye. 

Education Forward Arizona success advisors Danya Hinton and Alexis Salter each work with about 75 students. 

Both Hinton and Salter are Indigenous. Hinton grew up on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and Salter is from the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

“I love my students and I think I see myself in them because I was definitely in that position as well,” Salter said.

“A lot of them share pictures with me, a lot of them share stories of their grandparents, where their land is and where they come from,” Hinton added.

Many Indigenous students often ask themselves if they deserve the opportunities they receive and second guess themselves quite often, Salter and Hinton said, and they as mentors are there to let them know that they are on the right track. 

Even with opportunities like this one, there are only so many spots available and many students still fall through the cracks, so more and more funding is still needed, Salter said. 

“I just [try] to give them as much information that I possibly can and maybe try to make sure they get questions answered that I never got answered,” she said.

Kouyoumdjian has had a very positive relationship with her success advisor, highlighting that they keep up with her life outside of schools as a plus. 

“She just cares about me as a person,” Kouyoumdjian said.”It’s very much like having a mentor on your side.”

“The advising counselors are very helpful and if I do have any problem with academics or any kind of life issues then they’re literally one call or one text away,” Sangster-Biye said. “They are very focused on student success and just student well-being, wellness in general.”


  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is an affordability and LGBTQ+ reporting intern for The Copper Courier. She expects to graduate in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press and is an assistant research analyst at ASU’s Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research.

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