Chasing the Dream: American Indian education

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In our continuing series regarding poverty and the American Dream, hear the story of an Arizona State University American Indian student and her adjustments to a university education.

Ted Simons: "Chasing The dream: Poverty and Opportunity In America" is an on-going public media reporting initiative that looks at the contemporary state of the American dream with an emphasis on the changing nature of jobs, the vanishing middle class, wage disparity, and economic opportunity. Tonight, we focus on education, Christina Estes and photographer Langston Fields introduce us to an Arizona State University student who is on the road to success.

Video: Marlena is the first to admit she has changed.

Marlena Peshlakai: Over the years I've grown. I've seen myself grow as an individual and I've also had some recent encounters where people are like you've changed. I remembered you just as a freshman, you were just shy, and you didn't really want to talk.

Video: Before coming to ASU, population 80,000, Marlena spent her life in New Mexico, population 8,000.

Marlena Peshlakai: I lived in a very rural area and I grew up when I was little without running water and electricity until I was a sophomore in high school. That's when I get running hot water and electricity. So for me, adjusting like to a very busy city in Phoenix, it was really hard for me because I wasn't used to all the noise and just it being so busy. So it was a lot of adjustment for me.

Video: She was a little more prepared thanks to ASU's American Indian student support services. Before her freshman year, Marlena spent a couple of weeks on campus.

Marlena Peshlakai: And it was really helpful because I actually got to meet other native American students and it created like a bond, a friendship to this day, we all still talk to each other.

Video: Marlena also credits her ASU mentor.

Video: Definitely going to be needing performance for that.

Video: Over the past four years, Vicky has offered advice and encouragement.

Video: So are you going to be applying for the AIS scholarship again?

Marlena Peshlakai: Coming from a high school that was primarily just Navajos there, it was a big adjustment for me going to a very diverse type of setting.

Video: Marlena has shared her story with younger students across Arizona. As part of the tribal nations tour, she and other ASU students visited schools to promote the college experience.

Marlena Peshlakai: It was surprising because some kids like at the end of the presentation would come up to us and some of them actually cried and they were telling me I'm going through the same thing and for them it was kind of like an empowering moment because they knew that it was really possible for them.

Video: Marlena never thought she would end up in the nation's capitol but that's where she landed for two months while interning for the Social Security administration.

Marlena Peshlakai: It was a really life changing experience, adjusting from the west coast to the East Coast and I got to work on a presentation for the executive directors there, so that was really -- it was a really great moment and one of the directors actually approached me and after my presentation, like she told me I didn't know if she was one of the executive directors and she told me that I was a well-spoken person and like it really made me think like wow, I've come so far and hmm -- with everything I've been through, that I am able to do what I set my mind to and that -- if I just keep pushing myself and believing in myself, that I'm able to do anything that I want to do.

Ted Simons: Marlena wants to attend graduate school and then work with tribal communities.

Ted Simons: Friday on "Arizona Horizon," it's the Journalists' Roundtable. The state files suit over the president's directive on transgender bathroom and locker-room access.

Ted Simons: And the secretary of state continues to blame others for failing to send election pamphlets earlier this month. That's on the next Journalists' Roundtable.

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening!

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Video: Funding for chasing the dream is provided by the J.P.B. foundation and the ford foundation.

Marlena Peshlakai: ASU student

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