San Juan College receives $30,000 grant from Chevron

Bridge program aiding minority students likely will be launched before start of fall semester

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Carrie Tsosie Jim

FARMINGTON — When San Juan College President Dr. Toni Pendergrass initiated the school's equity, diversity and inclusion program last summer, she did so with several goals in mind — making the college a more diverse institution, improving its culture, and identifying and closing its equity gaps.

That's according to Carrie Tsosie-Jim, who serves as the senior research and equity analyst at the college. Tsosie-Jim says the college's ability to meet those goals got a shot in the arm earlier this week when it received a $30,000 award from Chevron U.S.A. Inc. to support the EDI program and to create a bridge program designed to support minority students pursuing careers in STEM- and energy-related fields.

Tsosie-Jim anticipates launching the bridge program before the start of the fall semester, indicating it likely will include efforts to introduce and familiarize participating students to laboratory settings and procedures, as well as expose those students to a series of guest speakers who can talk about their own experiences in those fields. College officials say the goal of the bridge program is to better prepare minority students for college-level entry courses in the areas of English, math, chemistry and biology.

Reflecting on her own undergraduate experiences in college, Tsosie-Jim said she initially struggled to develop a connection to her course of study. It was only after she hashed out how she was feeling during a conversation with her father that she was able to come to understand how her studies intersected with her Dine culture, she said. And from that point, she felt a link to her academic world that had been missing.

"I felt like I belonged," she said. "I understood that it was culturally connected. It didn't seem so distant."

In her role as an analyst at the college, Tsosie-Jim said she deals primarily with data and doesn't have a lot of interaction with minority students. But she said the other members of a campus-wide team assigned to conduct planning for the EDI program have provided her with plenty of stories from students who seem to be experiencing the same cultural disconnect that she did as a young undergraduate.

Tsosie-Jim plans to use that feedback — along with the data she can glean from other institutions that already have mounted such efforts — to help craft a program based on culturally sensitive strategies to encourage those students to complete their studies and earn a degree.

"That's something you can't get from a general student orientation," she said, describing how she envisions the bridge program working. "That's what I think this program will be able to offer them."

An exceptional relationship

The $30,000 award represents the latest chapter in a lengthy partnership between the college and Chevron, according to Gayle Dean, the present of the San Juan College Foundation, and Cary Baird, the public and government affairs adviser for Chevron. Baird said she works with several educational institutions in the region, but she said her company's relationship with San Juan College has always been exceptional.

"This is unique for me and the work I do in this region," she said of the award that will benefit the EDI and bridge programs. " … I really think there's an opportunity to bring (other) schools together on this in the long run and share best practices."

Gayle Dean

Dean said Chevron has been providing her college with scholarship money, professional development opportunities for faculty members and funding for bricks-and-mortar projects for 30 years. Just as important, Chevron has been hiring graduates of the college's School of Energy for many years, and so it has a vested interest in helping promote an atmosphere that leads to more students graduating in a timely fashion.

Baird said she would be very interested in seeing future data that indicate whether her company's $30,000 gift helps San Juan College achieve that result. But from a purely personal standpoint, she said she has other indicators she'll be keeping an eye on, as well.

"I'd be interested in softer data," she said, explaining that she is just as concerned about student perceptions and feelings about inclusiveness. "There are a lot of metrics that would be interesting for Chevron. It goes beyond energy."

Baird said the idea for the gift to the college came about originally when she and Dean were discussing the societal dynamics that played out on such a large scale in 2020, especially the Black Lives Matter movement. She wondered aloud to Dean whether there was something Chevron and San Juan College could do to begin to address the societal rift that had developed.

"I've got just the thing for you," Baird said Dean told her, floating the idea of supporting the new EDI program.

It didn't take Baird long to recognize the value of Dean's idea, given the fact that she said her company is deeply committed to hiring a more diverse work force.

"It makes so much sense," she said. "Chevon can hire employees, but we can't educate them."

Tsosie-Jim said she didn't have many details yet about what the bridge program will look like, how many students it will be designed to serve and whether it will be targeted for new students or those already attending the school. Planning is in the early stages, and she said organizers are intent on spending the money in a way that will have the biggest impact.

But she hopes this is only the beginning of something that has a lasting impact at the college, explaining she is anxious to determine "will this momentum trickle on down to three years from now," she said.

Students interested in participating in the program are encouraged to call Tsosie-Jim at 505-566-3326.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.