Rosanna (Tsatie) Awelagte ’13, shown holding a painting, attended the 2017 National UNITY Conference in Denver, the largest gathering of Native youth in the country.
WASHINGTON, PA (Nov. 14, 2017)—When Rosanna (Tsatie) Awelagte ’13 left her home at the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico for her first semester at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J), she didn’t know what to think, but knew she was pursuing her dreams.
She’d never been far outside of her home state of New Mexico alone or navigated an airport, save for a trip she took with her high school volleyball team to play at a competition in Australia.
Those first moments away from home, followed by success during her four years at W&J and later with her work in her home community are a testament to Rosanna’s dedication, tenacity and compassion. Her story—and the stories of students like her—exemplifies why W&J made The New York Time’s list of Colleges Doing the Most For the American Dream, ranked 29 out of Carnegie-classified National Liberal Arts Colleges that made the list and 60 out of 171 total institutions.
“W&J continues to provide students with the best personalized academic experience, and we’re proud to be recognized as an institution that leads students to success,” said Robert Gould, vice president for enrollment at W&J. “Our faculty and staff are passionate about the academic and personal development of our students, and their hard work is reflected by our recognition by The New York Times. Rosanna embodies the spirit of this award and her work in her community demonstrates what our alumni are capable of.”
For Rosanna, arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport a week before her freshmen orientation was like stepping into a different world. As a first generation college student born to teen parents, Rosanna didn’t have guardians who could provide her with insights on what college would be like, but they always gave her plenty of support and encouragement.
“They always told me (if you) go to school and get an education, you can do whatever you want,” she said. “When I was younger, I would see a nice car or truck and comment on it to my mom. She would say, ‘Stay in school. That’s how you’re going to get nice things.’”
With support from her family, a Pennsylvania teacher who came to Rosanna’s high school through the Teach For America program, and the W&J community, Rosanna found her way at the College. She credits her experience at W&J with building her confidence and preparing her for the real world.
“If you come to my high school and talked to students, they’re going to shut down. I was that student,” Rosanna said. “But then after I came to W&J, I learned to open up and ask questions, and that it’s okay to ask for help and you don’t have to be embarrassed. Going to W&J was really what I needed.”
Rosanna had already decided to return to New Mexico after graduating from W&J when she learned she’d earned a position with Teach For America. She taught art to middle school students through the program for two years before transitioning to her current position as a youth health educator for the Zuni tribe, accomplishing her dreams of helping children and working in health care. Through the job, she’s able to use the skills she learned away from home to improve her community.
“A lot of our kids here in Zuni grow up in a broken home. Seventy-five percent of our youth are affected by alcoholism; it’s in their families. That’s our focus,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it a lot because…I get to connect with the youth and do a lot of things with the kids to keep them occupied, making sure they have something positive to do.”
Rosanna’s also using her experiences to raise awareness for kids about education opportunities outside of Zuni or New Mexico, and she’s starting with her own family. Her younger sister, a senior in high school, has W&J in mind as one of her top picks for college, and a stepdaughter in high school also is interested in coming to W&J after a visit to the campus for last year’s homecoming festivities.
“I really cherish everything I’ve learned and all the experiences that I’ve had with W&J. It helped me learn who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do in my community,” Rosanna said.
The New York Times rankings are based on a combination of the number of lower-and middle-income students that a college enrolls and the price it charges those students.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.
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