Avis Garcia and Burnett Whiteplume earned their doctoral degrees from the University of Wyoming last week.
Whiteplume earned his degree in education curriculum and instruction, while Garcia completed her work in counseling education and supervision. The Northern Arapaho tribal members join past UW Ph.D recipients Vonda Wells and Blanche Friday.
Garcia, in particular, has shared her story, over the years and through different mediums, of perseverance and hard work in achieving her goals.
"I learned that it takes hard work and sacrifice to get a Ph.D, (and) I had to give up working to really focus myself on my work," Garcia said. "I learned how to manage my time, and that writing is a skill that must be mastered."
Along her journey she dealt with the loss of her mother as she worked on her bachelor's degree. She also raised three children and faced the struggles that came from the presence of alcohol abuse in her family. She also dealt with a divorce, the death of her grandfather, and her grandmother's illness.
Garcia's education stretches back to 1983 when she received her GED. She later attended Central Wyoming College but was unable to graduate. She turned to UW, where, in 1996, she earned her bachelor's degree in arts and sciences and psychology and then her master's degree in counseling education and supervision.
She was a recipient of more than 10 scholarships and fellowship programs including the Chief Washakie Memorial Scholarship and Northern Arapaho Endowment scholarship.
Garcia and her son Rain Chippewa were both recipients of 2014 Chief Washakie scholarships.
The Chief Washakie Memorial Endowment helps students and educators with significant ties to the Wind River Indian Reservation community pursue degrees at UW - with the assumption that recipients will in some way further the common good of the reservation's people.
Garcia has worked as the clinical supervisor for the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Healing to Wellness Drug Court and as a clinician for Shoshone Recovery Services in Fort Washakie. She helped establish the drug court on the reservation, directed the federally funded substance abuse treatment program for three years, conducted drug and alcohol evaluations for felony offenders in six counties, worked as a school counselor in Rock Springs, counseled American Indian students at the Cathedral Home for Children in Laramie and was a residential treatment counselor.
Garcia has expressed primary interest in looking at how to improve the success rate of American Indian students at UW.
"I learned that the higher education institutions are not geared for Native Americans' way of life," Garcia said. "So I had to adjust and advocate for my own cultural values I applied to my work. ... I learned I can do anything I set my mind to."
She was one of 22 people from around the country to be selected for the National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Program. The 22 recipients for 2014 were chosen from more than 80 applicants. Eligibility requirements included holding the National Certified Counselor certification; being enrolled in an accredited doctoral program; demonstrating knowledge of and experience with racially and ethnically diverse populations; and committing to provide mental health and substance abuse services to underserved minority populations.
The hardest part about pursuing her degrees was the endless hours of writing, she said.
"I didn't graduate high school, so I have had to work harder than someone who did, (and) I had no time for anything else but my studies," she said. "I was alone a lot because it was the only way to keep up with the demanding coursework."
Her passion for the counseling profession helped her keep going.
"I love what I do and anything to make me a better counselor educator is what I enjoy learning," Garcia said. "Other than that, a Ph.D program is not easy."
She's been featured in numerous publications and has given presentations at conferences including the Newberry Consortium of American Indian Studies 2016 Conference, the 2016 Rocky Mountain Association for Counselor Education conference, the Native American Education Conference in 2016, and the American Counseling Education and Supervision 2015 National Conference.
She is a licensed professional counselor, addiction therapist, substance abuse prevention specialist and criminal justice addictions specialist. She has completed research work on several projects and has managed grant opportunities. She's also a Wyoming Leadership alumna from the 2004 class. She has held several teaching positions, primarily focusing on counseling services.
"I would tell young people to go all the way with their education (and) ask for help when you don't understand," she said. "Perfect your writing skills and challenge yourself. ... It's never too late to achieve your goals in life."
She's currently doing contract work for both the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes and their recovery programs and was a multicultural affairs graduate assistant at UW. She now lives in Laramie but is pursuing counseling job opportunities in Phoenix.