CCC2NAU student to graduate from NAU

CCC2NAU student Eldred Nez will graduate from Northern Arizona University on Dec. 18, 2015.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- One of his dreams is to help his community to become healthier.

He also wants to help the environment by growing food.

Eldred Nez, 31, hails from Jeddito on the Navajo Nation. He graduated from Hopi High School in 2002, and began attending Coconino Community College in 2010. As a CCC2NAU student, Nez began attending Northern Arizona University full time in 2013.

He graduates on Dec. 18, with a degree that includes two fields of study to make a major – Applied Learning and Ecology and Land Use and Anthropology.

“I really want to work with environmental issues,” Nez said.

His goal is to work with people on how to make a difference environmentally on a local level. One of his research projects during his studies was to introduce bio-char to dry farming. Bio-char is the burned remnants of biological material like wood, manure and leaves.

The substance enriches land with nutrients for farming and also has a benefit of holding carbon dioxide in soil, which can reduce the effects of the greenhouse gas.

“I’m going to use my community as a testing ground,” Nez said.

Nez wants to build something where a majority of people in his community will see results with crops of fresh produce. In a place where the nearest grocery store is more than a 40 mile drive to get fresh produce, Nez said the tendency is to get more processed foods because they last longer.

Bringing fresh produce into the equation with biochar and dry farming will go directly to addressing obesity and related diseases, Nez added. The gist, he said, will be healthier living for Native Americans. His grandfather and father were both diagnosed with Type II diabetes, and both men passed away from heart-related diseases.

“I’ll just scratch the surface of it,” Nez said. “It’s not going to be overnight.”

He anticipates resistance from young and old as he tries to relate to them with traditional rhythms of Native American life and dry farming.

“I’d really love to get young Native American kids interested,” Nez said.

His journey to a four-year degree, the first in his family to get one, was circuitous. Straight out of high school, he received an associate’s degree as a drafter and computer-assisted drawing (CAD) operator. He worked in the field for six years before he was laid off during the recession. He did odd jobs for a year – selling cars, construction.

And four years ago, to make ends meet, Nez began working as a wildland firefighter during the summer months. He wants to keep his qualifications current so he can keep working as a wildland firefighter in the summers.

“My wife told me I should go back to school and look for something with job security,” Nez said.

He and Stephanee were married eight years ago. They have two children, Kaidin, 8, and Bailey, 3.

Nez said his first impulse was to get a four-year degree in elementary education, but while he was working toward the degree, he started seeing reports of teacher layoffs and school closures. So, because he was working summers as a wildland firefighter, he took a more environmental focus.

“Forestry classes really opened my eyes about forest restoration and forest health,” he said.

Of his experience at CCC, Nez said, “It was really good. It really made the transition easy for me.”

When he first returned to classes, he was nervous and thought he had been done with school. The support of the faculty and staff at the school made the difference to him seeing higher education as an option to improve his life. He loved the small class sizes, the closeness, the accessible instructors and the advisor support.

Nez said he would watch his anthropology teachers speak with so much passion.

“It opened my eyes and gave me an appreciation for different cultures and how they adapt and relate,” Nez said.

The fact that he’s graduating is still sinking in.

“Right now, it’s exciting,” he said. “I don’t feel any different.”

He’ll be moving out of the student phase of his life, and he’s already started applying for jobs in order to realize his goals. He’s sticking to what he knows best for now and is applying for wildland firefighter jobs with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. In April, he’s going back to the crew he fights fires with in Lakeside, Ariz.

“I’ll go where the jobs are right now,” Nez said.

In the meantime, he has a graduation to attend. He has a big family and has invited more than 70 guests.

“I pretty much invited everyone,” he said, laughing. “We’ll see who comes.”


Wednesday, 16th December 2015

All Dates

  • Wednesday, 16th December 2015