Las Vegas, New Mexico – For Rushanna Sándoval of the Navajo Nation, coming to New Mexico Highlands University is a family tradition with two of her cousins graduating from the university.
Sándoval, a junior psychology major, is born into the Zia Weaver clan and Red Running Into the Water clan. Her maternal clan is Towering House Clan and her paternal clan is Tangle Clan. Sándoval’s parents are her mother, Sharon Toledo, and here late father, Rufus Sándoval.
“I also came to Highlands because I was told there was a great psychology program here, and there is,” Sándoval said. “After I finish my bachelor’s degree I want to complete my master’s in psychology at Highlands. My professional goal is to return home to the Navajo Nation to work for the Indian Health Service to help my people deal with mental illness and needed counseling.”
Sándoval, 20, grew up on the Navajo reservation in the small community of Ojo Encino, New Mexico, on the eastern edge of the vast Navajo Nation.
“Many generations of my family have been Navajo medicine people, and I’m very proud of my heritage. My family is very traditional on both my parent’s sides. This means that I had the wonderful opportunity to learn the ceremonies and understand their importance, including how they help people,” Sándoval said.
She said the Navajo people have many sacred ceremonies that are important to preserve.
“For example, we dance and sing for someone who is sick,” Sándoval said.
Sándoval is the newly crowned Miss Native New Mexico Highlands University Queen for the 2018 – 2019 academic year.
“One of my goals as Miss Native NMHU Queen is to expand my understanding of different Native American tribes. I also want to represent Highlands, myself and the Native American Club well as a Navajo woman,” Sándoval said.
Julia Geffroy-Lementino, coordinator for the Native American Center at Highlands, said Sándoval is a natural and strong leader.
“Rashanna is a peer mentor for Native American students at Highlands, primarily for the freshmen,” Julia Geffroy said. “What makes her a good leader is she’s a good listener and gives good advice. Having grown up on a reservation herself, Rushanna relates well to students and they seek her out.”
Sándoval took a leadership role in the Native American Club at Highlands, serving as vice president during the 2017-2018 academic year.
“The Native American Club is like my second family here at Highlands, and it’s that way for other Highlands students,” Sándoval said.
Geffroy-Lementino said Sándoval sets a good example for other Native American students when it comes to cultural preservation.
“Rushanna participates in her traditional Navajo ceremonies and speaks her Navajo language,” Geffroy-Lementino said.
One primary responsibility for the Miss Native NMHU Queen is to represent Highlands and its Native American students at university and tribal events.
“Rushanna is a strong role model for the younger generation of Native Americans, representing indigenous women in higher education,” Geffroy-Lementino said.