As a member of Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation Alumni Board, Kristin Payestewa-Picazo strives to be a resource and example for current students.
“Being Navajo and Hopi and being on the alumni board represents to other Indigenous students that you can achieve this. Historically, we’ve not really been well-represented in the higher echelons of education. So for me, being in this position is a true honor,” Payestewa-Picazo said.
But getting to this point was not easy for the alumna.
Payestewa-Picazo’s parents struggled with some very personal challenges during her childhood and teenage years. At one point, she lived with her grandparents in northern Arizona because of it. All the while, she had plans to go to college and a good idea of what career path she wanted to pursue.
“I decided I wanted to be a nurse because my grandma on my Navajo side was a nurse,” she said.
However, those plans were delayed as she did her best to cope with the strain of her parents’ ongoing struggles. By the time she was in a position to be able to turn her attention back to school, she had some catching up to do, which meant first attending community college.
After earning an associate degree, Payestewa-Picazo applied to Edson College’s nursing program and was added to the waitlist.
Getting into the highly competitive nursing program was not totally out of the question, but the odds were not necessarily in her favor. So while Payestewa-Picazo waited, she had a decision to make about continuing with her education.
“It sounds so silly, but for students, it’s like your whole world is melting in front of you and there’s nothing behind that. And it’s like, what do I do now? I don’t have a plan B, this was it,” she said.
Payestewa-Picazo’s adviser was able to ease some of her fears and worries by sharing all the degree options available to her and finding a good fit that would still lead to a job in health care.
She settled on community health and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2019, but that was really just the beginning.
“Accomplishing that on my own was just amazing. Edson College was where I made my first big break. Getting an undergraduate degree changed my life for the better. During that time, I also found a passion for health care research and enhancing health technology systems,” Payestewa-Picazo said.
She uncovered that passion by taking classes that she likely would not have had the time for if she was in the nursing program. Those courses included exploring modern advances in health care technology and learning ways she could contribute to the industry on a greater scale.
Following that interest, Payestewa-Picazo enrolled in a master’s program, also at ASU, and earned a graduate degree in health informatics. She’s in the process of earning a graduate certificate in clinical research management and is planning to apply to a doctoral program.
Having been through so much, she says her goal as the newly elected vice-chair on the alumni board is to be an inspiration for students who, like her, have experienced rejection and/or maybe don’t have a good family support system.
“They may come from a harsher upbringing or they might just feel like they’re alone because they’re not going to nursing school. I want to help them realize that just because you don’t get into one thing doesn’t mean you can’t do something else,” she said, “and it’s OK to reach out for help if you’re going through that.”
It’s the kind of reassurance she wished a peer had given her as she navigated her early university journey. For that reason, sharing that support and message is really important to her.
Having carved out her own unique path in learning about health care and soon joining the field, Payestewa-Picazo feels she brings a different perspective to Edson College’s alumni board.
She says she is really happy to be a part of it and to hold space for not only Indigenous alumni and students, but for every alumni or student who needs that extra encouragement to follow their interests and to keep going no matter what.
After all, she knows firsthand the value of doing just that, and the immense rewards and unexpected revelations that can come from putting in the work both in and out of the classroom.
“There’s a lot of things inside of my identity that I didn’t know existed until I really pursued myself and my degree. ASU and Edson College helped get me there and helped me find my identity. That, to me, is the most valuable and precious thing that I could have gotten from ASU. For that, I say ahéhee' and askwali, which means thank you in both Navajo and Hopi.”