New Changes in Science, Mathematics, Navajo Language, and Culture at Diné College

Mar 24th, 2016 | By | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive
By Lori Tapahonso

Dr. Henry Fowler, Interim Provost.

Diné College, the Navajo Nation’s community college serving more than 1,600 students, is preparing to make significant academic changes that will improve the quality of education for all of its students. Helping to lead the effort is Dr. Henry Fowler, the interim provost who plans to encourage more participation and focus on science and mathematics as a way to build the Navajo Nation.

Fowler explains that when he arrived four years ago, he noticed that students only took college algebra and were challenged by remedial math courses. He realized that students needed more challenges in order to strengthen their learning. “I had to be innovative and encourage students and tell them that if we really cared about building the Navajo Nation, we have to care about science and mathematics,” he says.

Fowler understands that mathematics is not everybody’s strong suit, and that it’s challenging for many students. As a result, he helped to create a unique program called Navajo Nation Math Circles (NNMC) that integrates Navajo culture into the curriculum as a way to teach math concepts. The new program not only helps students learn mathematics, but it also incorporates Navajo language and culture into lessons.


Navajo Nation elementary students engaged in a math game.

Fowler is featured in the soon-to-be-released, documentary film Navajo Math Circles. The film, which has already garnered three awards, also features students enrolled in the NNMC Baa Hózhó Math Camp, local math teachers, a Diné College student, and Fowler’s mother Sally.

In furthering his efforts to strengthen the college’s math and science programs, Fowler is helping to expand the college’s bachelors and graduate programs. He also wants to ensure the integration of Navajo language and culture into the core teaching philosophy of the college. “[Our language and culture] is the strength of the Navajo Nation and the strength of the Navajo people,” he maintains. “We can no longer put the culture aside.”

In the near future, the college plans to develop Bachelor of Science programs in biology, psychology, and secondary math and science education, as well as two Bachelor of Arts programs. By adding more programs to the school’s catalog and increasing the use of Navajo language in education, Fowler hopes to start a trend that will benefit the Navajo Nation for years to come. “Our intention is for [students] to gain as much education from Diné College, along with Navajo culture and language, so that they are successful and they come back to the Navajo Nation, and that they help us,” he says.

Fowler explains that the strengthening of Navajo language and culture into its programs will help build character among Navajo youth as well, and it will help benefit the maintenance of Navajo culture. “Character shapes who we are,” he states. “It reflects our fire poker at home, and it reflects our elders teaching us who we are as individuals. If our elders are very precious to us, if our way of home life is very precious to us, this stems to our character. As my mother says, ‘if we do something wrong out there, they’re not going to be calling your name, they’re going to be calling us.’”

With these changes in academic programs and a strong cultural focus, Fowler hopes Diné College will become the Navajo Nation’s “new hope” and “new vision,” and that someday, the nation will unite together under “The University of the Navajo Nation.”

“We have a new energy, a new wave of intelligence, of new knowledge, and of new skill,” he says. “This college has great potential and many new opportunities.”


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