FARMINGTON — Harrison Clark, 31, had just returned from serving two tours of duty — one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan — with the U.S. Army and decided to go back to school.

But he needed a scholarship.

"I decided to go to go back to school at San Juan (College). They (the college) told me about all these scholarships," the Clark said.

And he received a scholarship.

Clark was one of 77 scholarship recipients who were recognized Thursday evening at San Juan College during a reception. The recipients were among the first to receive scholarships from the Public Service Company of New Mexico-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Initiative.

"It's actually the first scholarship I have ever received," he said.

PNM Chairman, President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn gives a speech on Thursday during the PNM-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Program Recognition
PNM Chairman, President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn gives a speech on Thursday during the PNM-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Program Recognition Reception at the Henderson Fine Arts Complex at San Juan College in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

The scholarships were part of a five-year plan that provides $1 million of scholarships to Navajo students attending San Juan College or Navajo Technical University for job training and schooling in energy industry trades.

The idea for the scholarships began when the utility — the primary owners of San Juan Generating Station — announced their intentions to decommission two of the four units at the coal-fired power plant. The utility signed an agreement with the Navajo Nation to make scholarships available to Navajo students.

More than 125 people attended the reception that featured speeches from leaders of the school, PNM and the Navajo Nation.

Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM chief executive officer, said the scholarships were intended to help provide economic stability for the students.

"(The scholarships) would help the students provide for themselves, for their families, and better their quality of life," she said.

The amounts of the scholarships were determined by the college.

Michele Peterson, director of the Native American Center at the college, said the scholarships made a difference for many of the recipients.

Guests arrive on Thursday for the PNM-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Program Recognition Reception at the Henderson Fine Arts Complex at San Juan College
Guests arrive on Thursday for the PNM-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Program Recognition Reception at the Henderson Fine Arts Complex at San Juan College in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

"It means they could get gas. They can finish the semester. They can have food," she said, adding that one student recently told her they didn't know how they were going to make it to class since they ran out of gas money.

"It means a lot," she noted.

"I am barely living off my scholarship," said Jaren Taliman, 26, of Farmington.

"It helped take away my financial troubles because I didn't know how I was going to continue living here," he said, noting that he is originally from Gallup.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly was one of the speakers.

"What I'm saying to you is learn all you can and make something of yourself," Shelly told the students.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly gives a speech on Thursday during the PNM-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Program Recognition Reception at the
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly gives a speech on Thursday during the PNM-Navajo Nation Workforce Training Program Recognition Reception at the Henderson Fine Arts Complex at San Juan College in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

Students' names were announced and then their pictures were taken with the speakers, which included San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass.

"This helps to enrich the lives of the students, the lives of their families and the lives of this community," Pendergrass said. "We are so proud of our students."

Earlier in the day, 47 scholarship recipients at Navajo Technical College were recognized.

Erny Zah is The Daily Times business editor. He can be reached at 505-564-4638. and ezah@daily-times.com. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.