Native American Yale Alumni mentor students in nation’s capital
By Henry Kwan ’05 MA
Posted November 02, 2022
A cohort of Yale Native undergraduate and graduate students who recently traveled to Washington, D.C. on a pilot professional development program were welcomed with a reception and career mentoring session hosted by Native American Yale Alumni (NAYA).
NAYA is a shared identity/interest group that connects and serves the Yale Native alumni community and empowers Indian country through service and leadership.
The event, held in a historic building constructed in the mid-1800s as a firehouse, gave students the opportunity to connect with regional alumni – representing a diverse range of professional backgrounds and fields – and discuss different career options and trajectories.
Elizabeth Rule ’13, a NAYA representative and assistant professor of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies at American University, voiced her enthusiasm in alumni being able to offer guidance, direction, and encouragement to the students.
“I hope the students come away from this event knowing that they have a community of Native professionals and Yale alumni who are cheering them on, ready to support them, and excited to hear about their imprints on the world,” she said, noting how Native alumni have benefited from their closeness and cohesion.
The Native community is relatively small, but we are tight-knit and continue to support one another long after our college years.
Elizabeth Rule ’13
Rule added she appreciated the chance to hear from students about their experiences and “the ways Yale is showing institutional support for the Native community on campus.”
Same goes for Hayley Carpenter ’11, a NAYA representative and trial attorney in the natural resources division at the U.S. Department of Justice, who was impressed by what she heard about the increased resources and support available to Native students now compared to her days as an undergraduate.
“What stuck me the most in talking to the students was how much the Native community has grown at Yale since I was a student,” she said. “Not only is there a new cultural center, but there are new Native student groups, a new assistant dean position, and I’m sure many other new programs I have yet to hear about. So promising!”
According to Matthew Makomenaw, NACC director and assistant dean of Yale College, the intention behind the program was to give students a head start in career exploration and alumni engagement.
“The purpose was to create an experiential learning opportunity for students to engage with a variety of career fields and meet with Indigenous alumni,” he said, noting how rare it is for Native alumni and students to connect. “Over the last few years, we have not had the opportunity to interact with alumni and this trip was a fantastic opportunity to restart those connections.”
Makomenaw added the NAYA event provided students with an opportune occasion to “learn more about the history and experience of NACC from alumni who went to Yale before them.”
From the perspective of Nathan Segal ’08, a NAYA representative who served as a senior political adviser in the Obama administration before transitioning into his current role as a director with a global investment management firm, the changes that have taken place on campus for the benefit of the Native student community since he graduated from Yale have been significant.
“When I was a senior, the Native American student group – around eight of us between all four class years – met on the third floor of the Asian American Cultural Center. There was no dedicated space for Native American students; there was no dean,” he said. “Now there is not only a dean, but an assistant dean as well! There is also a dedicated space, and there are so many more students. The progress made in the Native American community at Yale is an excellent illustration of what can be accomplished with the right resources, dedication, and focus.”
This, Segal added, was the reason he and other NAYA representatives were excited about hosting a gathering that brings alumni and students together. Among the alumni invited to serve as mentors were volunteers from other shared interest groups.
Retired U.S. Navy Captain Barbara Protacio ’81, vice president and a board member of 1stGenYale who after 30 years of military service embarked on an encore career as an educator, said she enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the students and offer advice that could help them better explore their futures.
“I hope I was able to usher them on to go partake in the wide panoply of alumni experiences and sharings waiting for them,” she said, emphasizing the strong commitment alumni have in supporting those following in their footsteps. “Alumni are invested in helping students navigate their next steps.”
Barbara Tyran ’79 MBA, a chapter leader with Yale Blue Green and the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance who spent much of her career in positions straddling the intersection of the energy and environmental sectors, said she was impressed by the mettle and caliber of the students.
“During the conversations, I was struck by the students’ range, diversity, and openness to new experiences,” she said, adding that those conversations reinforced for her the importance of students and young professionals taking a long-term view of their careers. “My biggest takeaway was the relevance of sustainability to every career path.”
For Gabriella Borter ’18, a member of the Yale Alumni Journalism Association and a national correspondent with Reuters, she found the opportunity to engage with current students, as a relatively recent alumna herself, inspirational, and reaffirmed the strong commitment of alumni in supporting students as they explore different professional and career options.
“It was heartening to hear how some of the students hope to build on the interests they’ve developed at Yale in their career paths after college,” she said. “They have an alumni network eager to connect with them and offer perspective and advice on all kinds of industries.”