MCC Student Makes Difference to her Alma Mater and Native Americans Across Arizona
Mesa Community College student Mariah Pahona-Charlie, president of the Inter-Tribal Association, is working for the American Indian Institute at MCC and pursuing college full time. Pahona-Charlie, founder of the Westwood High School mentorship program, has left a blue print for all Native American students to follow.
“I consider myself a lifetime learner,” she said.
Born in Chinle, Arizona, and the youngest of three, there was something special about Pahona-Charlie. She grew up in Mesa, Arizona, however her roots are from the Tewa Village in First Mesa, Arizona.
Mariah aspired to be many things: a Native American lawyer, aerospace engineer and veterinarian. She wanted to break the barriers and the typical stereotypes of Native Americans. Pahona-Charlie is a proud member of the Hopi-Tewa, and she wears it on her sleeve as she walks on campus every day. She leads by example for her nieces and nephews and desires to positively influence the younger generation.
“I never saw myself as different,” Pahona-Charlie said. “I wanted to bring awareness.”
Growing up, a strong work ethic was instilled in her. She excelled as a student at Westwood High School, took AP classes, was part of the orchestra and was also the first Native American to be a part of student council after a two-year hiatus of Native American participation. This all prepared her to be the first in her family to attend college.
“Being at MCC has helped me do a lot more than I could do at a university,” she said.
Following her high school graduation in 2013, Pahona-Charlie was set to go to college. As an advocate for community colleges, she didn’t consider a university at all. After receiving scholarships from Scottsdale Community College and MCC, she ultimately went with Mesa. But her road to MCC was bumpy at first. Her mother was in and out of the hospital in her senior year of high school, and it delayed her quest to get a college education.
After her mother’s health improved, she started at MCC in the spring of 2015 as a nursing major. After brief stints majoring in communications and sociology, Pahona-Charlie finally decided on a major that had been with her all along. Pahon-Charlie kept sociology as a minor and decided to major in American Indian Studies.
“This is where my heart is at, and where it has always been at and I didn’t know it,” Pahona-Charlie said.
She became a work-study student with the American Indian Institute on campus and then joined the Inter-Tribal Student Organization (ISO). She quickly rose up in the ranks starting as a secretary and in the fall of 2015 she became president of the club.
“I wanted to plant a seed and watch it grow,” she said. “It’s bigger than I thought.”
In the fall of 2016, she started a program with her alma mater, Westwood High School, called Westwood Native Warriors on the Rise!
Armed with the ISO, they regularly go to Westwood and educate the largest population of Native students in a Valley high school on life skills. They focus on topics such as money management, signing up for college and getting an apartment, challenges that Pahona-Charlie had to learn on her own growing up. The program has had so much success it attracted the attention of the MCC’s Early College Outreach Program, who want to help expand the program as part of making a difference at MCC and the community.
Pahona-Charlie advises other students, “If you stay humble about who you are and in your goals, you are going about it in the right way.”
Graduating from MCC will be bittersweet for Pahona-Charlie as it’s the birthday of her late older brother Daphen, “Vava” in Hopi. Vava was her biggest fan growing up and she credits him for being the person she is today. She was originally set to graduate in December, but she says it was just meant to be for her to graduate on Vava’s birthday.
“There’s something about community college students that leaves an imprint on a university,” Pahona-Charlie said as she reflected on the next chapter of her college career.
Pahona-Charlie will continue in American Indian Studies at Arizona State University in the fall. After she completes her bachelor’s degree, she wants to pursue a certificate in Education Counseling at Northern Arizona University. She hopes to open a non-profit for Native youth focusing on drug and alcohol prevention, community engagement and academic success.
“If you don’t do it now, the workforce will suck you in,” said Pahona-Charlie, as she advises anyone who is on the fence about getting an education. She encourages people to reach out and says people will find the resources they need if they put the effort in.
She likes a phrase her father coined, “Do it, then talk about it."”