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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Director ties heritage to new job

Director ties heritage to new job

Close ties with both the UA and his personal heritage allowed Kyle Ethelbah to become the new Native American Student Affairs director in January.

Ethelbah, a White Mountain Apache native, graduated from the UA in 1997 with a degree in cultural and linguistic anthropology. Now working as the program director for Native American Student Affairs, Ethelbah has exceeded his colleagues’ expectations in his new position so far, said Karen Francis-Begay, special adviser to the president for American Indian Affairs.

“He really understands the whole notion of access and equity for Native American students, and so he’s channeling a lot of his knowledge and the networks he has to really build in a strong foundation,” Francis-Begay said. “He’s bringing some much needed attention to the whole issue of retention and graduation, a concern that we’ve had for some time of our Native American population at the UA.”

Ethelbah grew up on a Fort Apache reservation in Whiteriver, Ariz. Having lost his mother as a baby, he was taken in by his grandmother, who raised 10 children of her own in addition to four grandchildren. Ethelbah’s father couldn’t care for him due to his active alcoholism.

“There was a lot of things that I’d seen growing up, including substance abuse, including a lot of dysfunction just because of what happened historically with us,” Ethelbah said. “But I also saw a lot of strength and perseverance.”

After working with TRIO, a federal outreach program aimed at providing services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for 12 years, Ethelbah said he wanted to return to his native state to “re-establish roots.” He saw working at the UA as an “opportunity to do something (he’s) passionate about.” As a program director, Ethelbah encourages students to succeed and give back to the community.

“What I want to see is for our students to lead the university with a sense of accomplishment and of service so that they are able to actually give back to their communities,” Ethelbah said.

As an undergraduate student, Ethelbah worked in the Office of Admissions and focused on working with Native American students. Lori Tochihara, associate dean of students, said Ethelbah is a “wonderful addition” to the UA. Tochihara worked in the Office of Admissions as a manager when Ethelbah was a student employee.

“He was a serious student who took advantage of a number of opportunities on the university campus. He was dedicated to his work and committed to his education,” Tochihara said.

Ethelbah enjoys working directly with students. He advises and provides them with campus resources they need to succeed and graduate.

“They’re (the students) beating the odds by being here because as American Indian students, we have the lowest graduation rates from high school as it is and, by being at the higher education level, they’re actually … surpassing what history has handed them,” Ethelbah said.

Students teach Ethelbah more than he teaches them, he said.

“Because I have a title, it doesn’t give me authority and it doesn’t mean I know everything,” Ethelbah said. “And in fact, once I start believing I know everything is when I’ve stopped learning.”

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