PNM honors San Juan College, Navajo Technical University graduates from workforce program

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Public Service Company of New Mexico recognized 15 students who received scholarships from its Navajo Nation Workforce Training Initiative and are graduating this semester from either San Juan College or Navajo Technical University.

Among those honored on May 10 was Navajo Technical University student Lyle Ben, who will receive an associate degree in construction technology on May 13 from the university in Crownpoint.

"It benefitted a lot because I was paying for school most of the time through work study or working on campus and with this scholarship, it helped me pay off most of my student bills. So, nothing came out of pocket for me," Ben said about the scholarship.

Navajo Technical University student Aaron Billy receives his graduation stole from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez during a reception on May 10 in Farmington to recognize graduating students in the Public Service Company of New Mexico's Navajo Nation Workforce Training Initiative.

He explained that he hopes to own a construction company on the Navajo Nation one day, but his immediate goal is to enter the workforce.

The scholarship program began in 2013 when PNM committed $1 million for distribution over five years to help Navajo students pursue certificates, associate degrees or bachelor's degrees in energy-related careers at either school.

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PNM extended the program in 2019 for another five years with a $500,000 commitment. Students can apply and qualify for the scholarship more than one semester.

"It warms our hearts each year to be part of your accomplishments," Cathy Newby, director of tribal government and customer engagement at PNM, said about the 15 students who were honored during the reception at the San Juan College School of Energy.

Navajo Technical University student Lyle Ben, center, stands with his mother, Alicia Ben, left, and his father Lawrence Ben, right, and NTU President Elmer Guy, far right, during the graduation ceremony on May 10 in Farmington to recognize scholarship recipients under the Public Service Company of New Mexico's Navajo Nation Workforce Training Initiative.

After a land acknowledgment to recognize the Indigenous people who once resided on the area that San Juan College now sits, College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass spoke about the partnership with PNM.

"Over the years, the PNM Navajo Nation Workforce Initiative has helped our students achieve the training and education needed for a successful future," Pendergrass said. She said it also provided the community a well-trained workforce.

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Navajo Technical University Enrollment Director Delores Becenti, left, introduces students who will graduate from NTU and received scholarships under the PNM Navajo Nation Workforce Training Initiative on May 10 at the San Juan College School of Energy in Farmington.

Navajo Technical University President Elmer Guy acknowledged that the investment by PNM has helped set students on the educational pathway to develop skills in order to enter and expand the local workforce.

"We are growing our own," Guy said.

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When the program was established in 2013, there was a vision to train the Navajo people, tribal President Jonathan Nez said.

"Your degree, your diploma holds a lot of responsibility. … Because you are equipped to fight for the continuation for our language, our culture, our way of life," Nez said.

This was the first time a joint ceremony was held by the two institutions to recognize graduates and it was also the first in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic halted such events.

Navajo Technical University student Jared Pino checks out the backpack he received on May 10 in Farmington from the Public Service Company of New Mexico during a reception to recognize his graduation and participation in the PNM Navajo Nation Workforce Training Initiative.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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