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Alumna sees nothing but possibilities with community health degree

Amanda Goodman

Culture, compassion and curiosity, those are just of few of the elements that played a role in Amber Poleviyuma’s decision to move forward with a degree in community health from Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

She was part of the college’s first cohort of community health graduates in May 2017.

“For me I feel like it's not only my obligation but it's my passion to be able to be an advocate and utilize my skills for my community,” Poleviyuma said.

That emphasis on community is important for the new alumna Poleviyuma, who is Hopi and grew up in the northern Arizona Village of Moenkopi.  A combination of the people and the culture played a big role in her path to graduation and now beyond.

“I think it has influenced many of the decisions in my life to live by those values but also remember who raised me and what they did for me.”

Early on, Poleviyuma noticed the values she was raised with and those of the degree program were in alignment. In particular, the value of coming together to identify and use what you have to work toward a goal that benefits the whole community.

“I love working with people, so that part definitely drew me in,” she said adding, “but as the program went on I learned about different practices and different frameworks that allow you to not just go in and demand all these things from the community but to really work with and collaborate with them to be able to understand what are their needs and what assets do they have?”

It was something a little more personal, though, that solidified this degree path: a family member’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

Poleviyuma says she noticed a lack of cultural competence by the provider taking care of her family member. Specifically, she said the provider didn’t really communicate what was going on to the whole family, all of whom play a role in taking care of the person who is sick.

“Especially with native people, it is not just the individual, the family is affected as well. There was a disconnect, so I think that communication aspect is what initially sounded an alarm for me to be able to say maybe this is not right, or we can do this better.” 

Her long term plan is to use all that she’s learned through her personal experience and the program to give back to her community and others by creating interventions and community-based programs.

“It's not very much about focusing on immediate outcomes, it's much more focusing on is this sustainable, will it last a long time and how will this make an impact in the long run,” she said.

In 2017, Poleviyuma was recognized for her leadership and volunteerism efforts aimed at increasing representation and awareness for Native Americans. She was selected as the ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership award recipient.

Most recently she worked as a management intern at ASU’s Center for Indian Education where she was able to both learn about and work with members from all the native tribes in Arizona.

“There are so many things that you cannot just treat without looking at the cause and looking at what are the factors that play into that,” she said.

Poleviyuma is also on the Hopi Education Endowment Board.

“We work on providing a source of funding for Hopi students and I think that definitely is one way to be able to use my community health degree. Even though it is education and health it meshes all of those,” said Poleviyuma.

That was another big takeaway from not only her degree but her work experience. Health touches everyone and is impacted by many things including education.

“Coming to ASU I think that definitely widened my view of what health is, the environment, the politics, socioeconomic status, all of these different factors are playing a role in health. It’s not just the individual,” she said.

Having completed her degree, Poleviyuma feels confident about her future and prepared for the possibilities to create real and lasting change for her community and others.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said adding, “this program and the people here are awesome, I love being a Sun Devil!”