Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Honor Student Had Rocky Start




Irvin Harrison came to Albuquerque to work, not to attend school, when he moved from his native Farmington and joined the staff of the University of New Mexico in 1995.

Saturday, May 12, Harrison graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree and a long list of awards and honors under his belt. He also delivered the commencement address.

And Harrison, who is Navajo, will be one of 119 Native Americans accepting a degree out of 2,491 students slated to cross the podium Saturday. Native Americans often become overwhelmed by the university's size
and complexity, he said. About a third drop out.

"Native Americans are just naturally quiet, and we tend to get lost in the whole system," Harrison said in an interview at UNM's Honors Program, where he has worked for six years and now serves as office manager.

"They are just not aggressive enough to ask for help," he said.

Harrison plans to pursue a master's degree in communications at San Diego State University. His bachelor's degree is in English and professional writing.

Eventually, he wants to return to Albuquerque and work in UNM's American Indian Student Services office. His goal is to help reduce the high dropout rate for Indian students by smoothing over some of the rubbing points between cultures.

"Western thought and traditional thought clash at times," he said.

His first experiences as a student at UNM did nothing to predict his later academic success. Harrison dropped his first class in 1995 and did poorly in a class the following semester.

Since then, Harrison has completed 24 credit hours of honors courses and was recently inducted into the Phi Beta Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies.

"This is a complete turnaround for me," he said. "UNM has been good to me as a staff member and as a student. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Irvin has been inducted into a number of honorary organizations. Most recently, he was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies. He is also a member of the UNM Trailblazers, UNM Golden Key International Honor Society, UNM Mortarboard National Senior Honor Society and UNM Blue Key Honor Fraternity. He is the recipient of a Clauve Outstanding Senior Award, a UNM General Scholarship, a Myrtle Okey American Indian Scholarship and Hartley B. Dean American Indian Scholarship and a Ballut Abyad Scholarship as well as a participant in the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.



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