It’s no secret that the system of higher education has presented a lower barrier to access for some groups than for others. Though perhaps not a conscious design choice, this discrepancy often ends up putting those who already may be disenfranchised at risk of a further disadvantage. One group, residents of Native American tribal reservations, has had a particularly tough go of the higher education game, especially with many young kids growing up in places where traditions and family history may seem at odds with moving hundreds or even thousands of miles away to pursue higher education.
For Corey Ashley, a Navajo resident from Arizona who will begin attending Stanford University this fall, those barriers seem to be of little consequence now – but it wasn’t always that way. Ashley is the first student ever from his reservation to be accepted into an Ivy League school, an accomplishment in its own right. Making the feat even more of a standout is that only around one percent of the residents of the Sanders, AZ reservation where he lives will ever graduate college.
Ashley admits that he himself had doubts about ever being able to go to college, until he encountered a special teacher his junior year of high school. The teacher, Josh Catron, is a Stanford alumnus who graduated in 2009, and he opened up to Ashley about the College Horizons program. The program is aimed at helping to increase the number of college applicants and, ultimately, graduates from Native American households across the country. Eventually, the pamphlets on the program that Ashley received sparked his interest enough for him to pursue more information. That, in turn, led to his enrolling in a summer internship on computer science over last summer. For Ashley, experiencing a college campus and being accepted into the Horizons program changed his entire outlook. Later that summer, he would travel to NYU for a college workshop and Ashley says that trip sealed the deal: He knew he wanted to change the direction of his prospects with regard to higher education and began making a plan to get himself where he wanted to be.
During his senior year, Ashley became the president of his college prep club and fund-raised over $26,000 to pay for a college tour for the top 20 students at his school. Together, they toured some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, including Dartmouth, Harvard, and several others. When Ashley’s persistence and hard work paid off, he was left with another difficult choice: Which acceptance letter would he respond to?
Ultimately, Catron’s descriptions of his time at Standford won Ashley over, and he started to envision his time there before it had even begun. Ashley said talking to Catron made him want those experiences for himself and, in just a month or so, he’ll be able to take the next step by moving into campus and heading to his first college classes. All in all, not bad for barely over a year’s work, not bad at all.