Conference helps students connect with their cultures

MESA, Arizona – March 29, 2022 – Mesa Community College Cultural Science Department hosts a three-day conference to inspire students to connect with their cultures. The second annual conference, “Keeping Traditional Practices Alive: Inspiring Students to Connect to Their Culture,” is scheduled for April 5-7 and features several local, regional and national speakers each day. The event is open to the public. Admission is free. Events are in-person and virtual. In person sessions will take place on MCC’s Southern and Dobson Campus, 1833 W. Southern Ave., Mesa.

“We started these conferences as part of our department's contribution to the college's diversity, equality and inclusion priority,” said Paul Harasha, residential sociology faculty and program director for the Academic Certificate in Global Citizenship. “We wanted an event that focused on our students' lives and experiences, rather than a more traditional academic conference tailored to faculty. Our goal is to validate our students and truly make them feel included in our educational setting. The hope is that they feel proud, empowered and encouraged.”

Conference topics and speakers include:

Tuesday, April 5

12-1:15 p.m. Resiliency: How Undocumented Students Fought Anti-Immigration Laws

Speakers: Jose Patino and Denise Garcia
Location: Room LB 145
Patino is the director of education and external affairs at Aliento, a Phoenix-area organization
focusing on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and undocumented youth.

Garcia is currently an MCC student and president of Aliento’s student club at the college.

1:30-2:45 p.m. Learning from Our Elders: MCC’s First Elder In-Residence Program

Speaker: Mona Scott Figueroa, Ph.D.
Location: Virtual Only
Dr. Figueroa is an acclaimed American Indian studies and sociology professor at MCC.

Wednesday, April 6

10:30-11:45 a.m. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African and American Culinary History

Speaker: Michael Twitty
Location: Room LB 145
Twitty is an African-American Jewish writer, renowned culinary historian and educator. He is the author of “The Cooking Gene,” which won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Book of the Year. He is also the author of “Rice: A Savor the South Cookbook” and “Koshersoul” released earlier this year. In 2010, he launched Afroculinaria, a culinary history blog that explores the culinary traditions of Africa, African-America and the African diaspora.

12-1:15 p.m. Exploring the History and Culture of the Washington-Escobedo Neighborhood

Speakers: Lorena Austin and Phil Austin
Location: Room LB 145
Lorena Austin graduated from Mesa Community College as an honor student and student body president. She went on to graduate from the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University with a degree in Chicano/Latino Studies. She is currently running for the Arizona House of Representatives in district LD9. Phil Austin (Lorena’s dad) has been a local civil rights attorney for more than 40 years.

Thursday, April 7

10:30-11:45 a.m. Strengthening Roots with Music

Speaker: Matthew Yatsayte
Location: Room LB 300
Yatsayte is part of Morning Star Youth Leaders, a non-profit Native American youth leadership support organization with the intent to empower, educate and provide direct support to indigenous youth.

1:30-2:45 p.m. Hopi Families Sustaining Traditional Foraging and Farming Practices

Speaker: Valerie Nuvayestewa
Location: Room LB 300
Nuvayestewa is from the Hopi/Tewa corn clan from the village of Tewa. She is a diabetes prevention educator for the Hopi Tribe’s Department of Health and Human Services’ special diabetes program. She is a member of the Natwani Coalition, a non-profit group that helps support agricultural sustainability in the Hopi community as well as a member of the Hopi Food Co-op, The Hopi/Tewa Women’s Coalition and the Unite to End Violence-Native Women’s Empowerment Group.

“While the focus of the conference is to help students feel pride about their heritage and cultural background, if faculty, staff and community participate in these conferences, they in turn can be mentors as well as a positive part of our students' academic success and journey,” notes Harasha.

To attend the conference sessions virtually, visit to log in a few minutes before the designated start time..

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Media contact: Dawn Zimmer, or 480-461-7892

Mesa Community College is nationally recognized for university transfer, career and technical programs, civic engagement, service-learning and innovative approaches to education. On average MCC students provide 23,000 hours of community service annually. For more than 50 years, the college has served as a resource for education, workforce development and lifelong learning. Host to more than 25,400 students annually, MCC offers degree and certificate programs at its two campuses and additional locations through a combination of modalities. MCC is transforming how it champions student success through Guided Pathways with Integrated Support Services and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. MCC is a Hispanic Serving Institution with nearly 50% of its students being the first in their families to attend college. MCC has the largest indigenous student population of all the Maricopa Community Colleges; its American Indian Institute serves students from the 22 federally recognized Arizona tribes as well as out-of-state tribes. The diverse student body includes hundreds of international students from around the world. Award-winning faculty are dedicated to student success, providing the education and training that empowers MCC students to attain their goals. Located in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona, on the traditional territories of the O'odham, Piipaash and Yavapai Peoples, MCC is one of 10 colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District. Visit to learn more.

Mesa Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) --

The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) is an EEO/AA institution and an equal opportunity employer of protected veterans and individuals with disabilities. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or national origin. A lack of English language skills will not be a barrier to admission and participation in the career and technical education programs of the District. MCCCD does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs or activities. For Title IX/504 concerns, call the following number to reach the appointed coordinator: (480) 731-8499. For additional information, as well as a listing of all coordinators within the Maricopa College system, visit

Source Details

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, March 29, 2022