Office of the Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives (NAI)

The mission of the Office of Native American Initiatives is to uphold the UArizona's commitment to its land-grant mission and inclusive excellence by advancing the academic aspirations of Native American students and faculty, and a tradition of service to Native Nations.

Message from the Assistant Vice Provost for NAI




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Karen Francis-Begay, Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives

As a land grant institution, UA has a critical role in creating an inclusive campus climate and building a competent workforce statewide. Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes and has the third largest American Indian population in the country. Arizona’s land base, approximately 28% of which is federal trust land, is home to two of the three largest reservations in the country, including Navajo and Tohono O’odham Nations. Tribes in Arizona are a key economic force and are among the top employers in their regions. Tribal scholarships represent an investment and commitment to reduce barriers to student success by increasing access to higher education, supporting student persistence and graduation, and preparing a highly educated and skilled workforce.

As a newly established office, NAI will support the UA’s role by leading Native American student and faculty initiatives that respect tribal sovereignty and are culturally grounded and research based. We strive to be a leading institution that provides quality services and resources to Native American students, faculty, and communities.

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Message from the Provost



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Dr. Liesl Folks, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

It is my great honor to serve you in my role at the University of Arizona, most especially given that the University sits on the homelands of the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe. From this website, we aim to provide comprehensive information about all facets of our supports for our Native American students and faculty in the University of Arizona community, as well as our engagement with the Arizona-based Nations. 

Over the past few decades, Native American faculty and staff have laid the groundwork to improve the University experience for Native American students and faculty.  Leadership on these issues is provided by Karen Francis-Begay, Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives, who was born on the Navajo Nation, is a University of Arizona alum, and has a long professional history of strong leadership and Native American advocacy at University of Arizona. 

I am committed to learning new ways in which we can support our indigenous students, faculty and staff. Our approaches to communication and education matter in terms of connecting with different perspectives. It is imperative to enact positive and lasting change whereby all Native students and faculty feel welcomed, valued, included, and supported in their educational and professional goals.

About the provost


USDA National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) Federal Grant Award:

Advancing Postsecondary Attainment & Research in STEAM for Tribal Students (APARSTS), A Partnership with Diné College.

The overall goal of this 4-year collaborative project with Diné College is to provide Tribal students with the skills, knowledge, and confidence in pursuing a degree in STEAM and eventually, to build a strong network of support as they advance in their career field. These students will pave the way for other Tribal students to succeed and this project would serve as a collaborative model for other tribal college and Research I universities to partner to advance educational opportunities for Tribal students, especially in the STEAM fields. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the challenges many tribal communities are faced with such as food scarcity, lack of water resources, no broadband capacity, and ill-equipped health care center. Graduates of this project will have the capacity and support to address the critical science, health, and sustainability issues impacting tribal communities resulting from lack of resources and a solid infrastructure. Our time is now to take action and be part of the solution to helping tribal communities overcome these hardships.

Total grant award: $284,096

PI:           Karen Francis-Begay, Assistant Vice Provost, Native American Initiatives, The University of Arizona

Co-PI:    Kimberly Sierra-Cajas, Director of the Arizona’s Science, Engineering, and Math Scholars (ASEMS) Program, The University of Arizona

Co-PI:    Demetra Skaltsas, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the STEM Department, Diné College

Co-PI:    Benita Litson, Director of the Land Grant Office, Diné College

Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency)

Native SOAR was established in 2005 by Dr. Jenny Lee, Professor in the College of Education’s Center for the Study of Higher Education at The University of Arizona, and Dr. Amanda Tachine, Assistant Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. Since its inception, Native SOAR has provided culturally responsive student support services beginning in middle school all the way through doctoral education, creating a strong pipeline for AI/AN scholars, educators, and practitioners. The program has been recognized nationally, including by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

Native SOAR is a multigenerational mentoring program that centers the needs of AI/AN students throughout the K-20 educational system. Native SOAR draws upon asset-based AI/AN pedagogies to provide culturally responsive mentoring and support services. Since 2014, Native SOAR has served:

  • 6,500 K-12 students
  • 15 K-12 schools across Pima county
  • 189 undergraduate students representing 16 sovereign Native nations and 41 majors

Undergraduate students serve as mentors for K-12 students, providing them with culturally relevant college planning information. Simultaneously, undergraduate students are mentored by graduate students to ensure each participant is holistically supported. This multigenerational mentoring model is rooted in evidence-based best practices that create a strong familial environment for both mentors and mentees, simultaneously promoting enrollment in higher education for K-12 students and retention for undergraduate students.

While widespread structural barriers have historically resulted in AI/AN students lagging behind their peers in high school graduation rates, college persistence rates, and college graduation rates, Native SOAR participants have consistently outpaced their non- participant peers in first-to-second year retention and six-year graduation rates. Native SOAR is a premier program with a proven track record of closing the educational achievement gap for AI/AN students.

Read more about Native SOAR

The Indigenous Circle is a University of Arizona (UArizona) organization for staff and faculty members who are and/or work with Indigenous communities and/or Indigenous students. We foster networks and build collaborations to optimize partnership and programming opportunities in culturally appropriate and respectful ways, thereby, increasing our effectiveness at recruiting and retaining Indigenous staff, faculty, and students; ensuring community based participatory efforts; building Indigenous community capacity; supporting awareness of Indigenous contributions at campus events; and, ultimately becoming a recognized institutional entity.

Meetings:  Organization meetings held every other month and is hosted by a different UA unit/department.  Date, time, and location will vary depending on the host.  Meeting announcements will be posted to the listserv.  Meetings will be 1 hour & 30 minutes in length.

Agenda:  The host of the meetings will provide a welcome and an overview of their unit/department to kick-off the meeting.  The remainder of the meeting will be open to other agenda topics put forth by the membership.

Listserv:; as a member, you are able to post announcements to this listserv.

Add or remove from listserv:  Please contact Karen Francis-Begay; listserv is restricted to UArizona employees only.

The UA seeks to enhance support to Native American students engaged in distance/online learning. This initiative focuses on providing services to tribal citizens enrolled at the UA who need internet access, computer equipment, and other support so that they can actively participate in UA on-line courses; tribal citizens interested in enrolling in UA on-line undergraduate, graduate, professional degree, and certificate programs; and, tribal citizens interested in enrolling in on-line continuing education and workforce training programs offered by the UA or designed in partnership with the UA.

In partnership with Enrollment Management, a new tribal affiliation reporting system was created and took effect for fall 2021 applicants. The system provides an option for Native American/Alaska Native students to select a tribal affiliation on a new drop-down menu listing all 574 federally-recognized and 62 state-recognized tribes by their home state. This provides the UA a more accurate reporting of tribal representation of students.

In the spring 2020, the Native American Financial Aid Advisory Committee was created following recommendations made by Dr. Karletta Chief, Associate Professor in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, to enhance the financial aid experience for Native American students. The Advisory Committee had its first meeting on March 24, 2020 and meets every other month, excluding summer. The co-chairs of the committee are Kasey Urquidez, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, and Karen Francis-Begay, Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives.

In the spring 2020, the Indigenizing the New Student Enrollment Process Advisory Committee was created following recommendations made by staff and students to enhance marketing, outreach, representation, and the admissions process for Native American students. The Advisory Committee had its first meeting on March 25, 2020 and meets every other month, excluding summer. The co-chairs of the committee are Kasey Urquidez, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, and Karen Francis-Begay, Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives.

Red Star International, Inc. (Red Star), an Indigenous-led non-profit organization, is supporting Native American Initiatives in facilitating a planning process to create an Indigenous-centered, student focused and research-based framework to guide NAI’s strategic directions for the next 3-4 years. NAI is uniquely positioned to enhance the Native American student and faculty experience on campus by generating new insights and advancing initiatives that honor the importance of building relationships, trust, and mutually beneficial partnerships with Indigenous communities. A final strategic plan will be unveiled in 2022.

MESCIT is a math tutoring and mentorship program for Native American high school students in Southern Arizona. The program was established in 2018 by Dr. Irene Shivaei and Dr Gurtina Besla from the Department of Astronomy & Steward Observatory. MESCIT trains UArizona undergraduate students as math tutors to hold personalized math tutoring sessions at the Ha:sañ Preparatory and Leadership School, a charter high school in Tucson with predominantly Tohono O’odham students. This program operates at the interface of education and workforce development, with the goal to both advance math education and math identity among Native American high school students and also to help them realize their potential to pursue careers in STEM fields. UArizona undergraduates serve as both math tutors and mentors, offering students relatable role models pursuing careers in fields like engineering, physics, and math.

MESCIT is funded and supported by:

  • The UArizona Department of Astronomy & Steward Observatory
  • The UArizona College of Engineering
  • Larry Allen (Astronomy Board Donor)
  • The Office of the Senior Vice President for Native American Advancement & Tribal Engagement.
  • NOIRLab
  • Freeport-McMoRan

Contact: Dr. Gurtina Besla  (Assoc. Prof, Astronomy)
Program Leads:  Dr. Irene Shivaei & Dr. Everett Schlawin

Program Website


Felisia Tagaban Gaskin

Director of Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access & Resiliency)

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Karen Francis-Begay

Assistant Vice Provost, Native American Initiatives

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Martha S. Lee

Program Coordinator for Native American Initiatives

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Campus Partners

Native American Initiatives works across campus with the following units. Within these units are many key exemplary programs and services supporting students and faculty.