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FARMINGTON — Dakota Kay faced obstacles when striving for higher education, but it did not stop him from earning a doctorate in physical therapy in May.

Kay shared his story about overcoming financial difficulties and homelessness with Navajo Transitional Energy Company scholarship recipients on Aug. 1.

Although the Kayenta, Arizona, resident graduated from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri, he said the accomplishment was not easy.

His experience included receiving enough loans to cover tuition costs but not housing or meals, and using his parents' truck to sleep in while parked at a Walmart near the university.

Despite the hurdles, he said he pursued his dream.

"Because when you're determined, when you're willing to do whatever it takes, you will do whatever it takes. You'll make the sacrifices to succeed," Kay said.

His situation changed when the university president learned of his circumstances and he eventually received scholarships to complete his studies.

He told the scholarship recipients that his experience with financial hardship is not unique among Native American students.

"We're not as blessed in terms of financial support. Being Navajo and coming from families that don't make a lot of money, it's tough. But in the end, you got to do whatever it takes to succeed," Kay said.

Helping Navajo college students further their education is the reason NTEC started the scholarship program in 2018.

The company awarded 31 scholarships this year to students pursuing majors that focus on science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

The scholarships are $1,000 each. Qualifications include attending accredited colleges, universities or technical institutions and being registered or living within the boundaries of a chapter on the Navajo Nation.

DeShawna Begay is studying biological science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Because Begay does not qualify for the federal Pell Grant program, she utilizes scholarships and pays out of pocket.

"This scholarship is going to help me with my tuition," she said.

Breanna Nez said she appreciates NTEC for offering scholarships to students seeking careers in STEM.

"I'm relieved because I don't want to ask my parents for money. It relieves their worries about how to pay for my school," Nez said.

This is the second year Jessica Coolidge received the scholarship, which will cover expenses at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.

"It helped me out with extra money during the semester," Coolidge said. "NAU is expensive. It alleviates expenses from both of my parents."

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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