Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D.’02, is the 2016 recipient of the Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education. Yazzie-Mintz, currently a senior program officer for early childhood education initiatives and co-director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs with the American Indian College Fund, has devoted her professional career to improving access to early education for Native children. She will be presented with the award at the HGSE Convocation ceremony on May 25.
“This award is a beautiful honor, and it is entirely unexpected,” Yazzie-Mintz says. “As a doctoral student at Harvard, I often felt that my work focusing on Native education was invisible...; receiving this award is a wonderful surprise, as it indicates that HGSE’s Alumni Council and institution recognizes this work and validates it as an important contribution to the field of education. This powerful recognition is not just for me, but celebrates collective work over time: my work with Native teachers, with tribal colleges, and universities, and with tribal communities. I believe in creating opportunities for change to happen from within Native communities, doing this work with Native communities, not for them. It is powerful to work toward empowering historically underfunded and disenfranchised communities; empowerment is a sustainable action and impact on Native communities and children.”
Following graduation from HGSE, Yazzie-Mintz spent two years in the Boston Public Schools before becoming an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction at Indiana University. There she worked with the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and for the last four years has worked with four tribal colleges to develop early childhood programs and early learning centers through the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative, helping to develop curriculum based on each community’s unique language, culture, and educational practices.
“The Alumni Council is thrilled to present Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz with the 2016 Alumni Council Award and recognize her groundbreaking work in early childhood education,” said Jonathan Steele, Ed.M.’05, chair of the Alumni Council. “Tarajean's work developing the Wakanyeja 'Sacred Little Ones' programs that embrace and incorporate the culture and heritage of the tribal communities they serve is remarkable. While she could have continued on her very successful, traditional academic path, she turned away from a tenure-track position to pursue the development of these early learning programs and continues to present original education research about their development and success.”
The Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education began in 1985 in order to recognize significant service to education by alumni. Candidates must be graduates of HGSE and have made a noteworthy contribution to education during their professional careers in order to be nominated.