Diné College, NMHU forming partnership

A grant will allow both colleges to purchase new distance learning equipment and develop new degree programs

Joshua Kellogg

FARMINGTON — A new partnership between New Mexico Highlands University and Diné College will lead to the colleges developing distance learning programs allowing students at one institution to attend classes offered by the other.

Students Maryleen Smiley, left, and Celeste Greyhat take notes during a business class Thursday at Diné College in Shiprock.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the colleges in August to use a grant worth about $439,000 that was awarded to NMHU from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November 2015.

The grant was one of 75 projects that were awarded a total of $23.4 million to expand distance learning in rural areas through the USDA Rural Development's Distance Learning and Telemedicine program, according to a USDA press release.

As part of the grant, the funding will replace Interactive Television equipment in eight Diné College classrooms, including two classrooms at the college's Tsaile, Ariz., campus and the Shiprock branch, along with one classroom at the Chinle, Ariz.; Crownpoint; Tuba City, Ariz.; and Window Rock, Ariz., locations.

NMHU President Sam Minner said the partnership is a great opportunity and could lead to more collaborative projects in the future.

"This is hopefully the beginning of a long-term partnership between the two institutions," Minner said.

The grant will also provide equipment for two classrooms at NMHU at its main campus in Las Vegas and a museum classroom at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque that can connect to the six Diné College sites, according to Kerry Loewen, NMHU department chair of media arts and technology.

Diné College instuctor Juanita Farley teaches a personal finance class Thursday in Shiprock.

“It’s about being able to help (Diné College) students that would otherwise not be able to get an education,” Loewen said.

The ITV equipment across the six Diné College locations is very old, and the service contracts to maintain the equipment are about to end, according to Lisa Eutsey, Diné College’s dean of faculty.

The two institutions are discussing plans to offer courses to each other's students, with NMHU scheduled to offer one course next summer to Diné College students.

Eutsey believes the partnership can benefit students and professors across all Diné College locations. Some ideas being discussed include offering NMHU courses to Diné College students in the new bachelor of arts in psychology degree program that might allow them to pursue a master’s degree remotely.

The partnership would be a relativity easy and quick method for Diné College to offer NMHU master's degree programs, Minner said.

Loewen and Eutsey both said NMHU was interested in having Navajo language and culture classes taught remotely by Diné College faculty. The Navajo languages courses could possibly develop into a new certificate or minor for NMHU students, Minner said.

Eutsey believes distance learning programs are crucial for the future of the college.

“We want to build new programs in targeted, selected areas that provide Navajo people employment,” Eutsey said. “This partnership allows us to expand these kind of programs.”

Diné College is pursuing additional funding to increase the number of distance learning classrooms at its Chinle, Ariz.; Crownpoint; Tuba City, Ariz.; and Window Rock, Ariz., sites to allow more courses to be taught remotely at the same time.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.