Rebecca (Becca) TeSam, 20, is a Viejas tribal member currently attending San Diego State University (SDSU) seeking a degree in criminal justice. She recently took some time with Kumeyaay Way magazine to discuss the influence the Tribe and its educational policies have had on her journey toward higher education. Here are some excerpts from that conversation. Why did you choose SDSU? What appealed to you about the school? TeSam: SDSU was my first choice for college because I could stay close to home, while still moving out and learning how to be more independent. Also, I knew that I was interested in the criminal justice major and they offered it. Why did you decide to major in criminal justice? What do you like about the profession? TeSam: I decided in my junior year of high school that I wanted to be a criminal justice major in college. I am really interested in many fields in law enforcement, especially forensics. I think I would enjoy almost any career having to do with criminal justice because there are always new things to learn about it and it is a great field to help society. How is the Viejas Tribe helping you further your education? TeSam: Tribal funds have paid for my entire college career. I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to get a higher education and don’t have to worry about the fees. They not only pay for tuition but books, and a part of my housing as well. Viejas offers funds to all tribal members to earn their degrees, and not only a two- or four-year degree but also masters’ and doctorates. This is an extremely important gift given by the tribal government because it gives us a chance that our parents and grandparents of the tribal community didn’t have to get a higher education, and to bring that back to the reservation to help make it even better. Do you think the offer to pay for secondary education is appreciated among younger tribal people? TeSam: I don’t believe enough young people take advantage of the educational opportunities the Tribe makes accessible to us. I think [a lot of younger people don’t] see the importance of education. Fortunately the Tribe is trying to change that—the education center, which is under construction, will help alert them to these opportunities. Furthermore, I don’t think [younger Tribe members] realize how many people would be grateful to have the opportunities we have to go to school and not have to worry about the fees. To be able to go to college and have it paid for is one of the greatest gifts I have received, and I believe other tribal members that have this opportunity should see it as the wonderful gift it is too, and take advantage of it! I also believe that these educational opportunities have the chance to change the social and economic outlook for young people at Viejas; not only to get a great job, but to bring that education back to the reservation, and this will help younger generations be more involved in education as well. What role has your family played in your pursuit of a college degree? TeSam: My family was very encouraging and supportive when it came to education from preschool on, especially my mom, sister and brother. If I ever needed help with schoolwork they were always there. For example, my mom was the English master in my mind. She would always proofread my papers and she has been one of the biggest supporters in my education, even now. Do your parents ever talk about how much the educational situation has improved on the reservation since they were young? TeSam: My father grew up on the Viejas reservation. I believe that educational opportunities for me are much greater than they were for my father; the community was quite poor then and they weren’t offered free education. I assume most got through high school and didn’t even think about college because of the cost. Although they didn’t have the opportunities then to go to school it is never too late to go back to school, and I think all tribal members should see the opportunities that are there for them. Are you happy about the renaming of the SDSU stadium to Viejas Arena? Do you think it will help foster a better understanding of the Viejas culture and people among both faculty and students? TeSam: I think it is great that Viejas is getting involved more in things that tie into education, so when I found out that they were renaming the arena I thought that was great. I think one of the greatest benefits of this will be to show the community that Viejas is serious about getting their name involved with education. I believe that many Californians only think of casinos and gambling when they think of Viejas, and I don’t think that is good. Of course it is what has made us so fortunate today but it shouldn’t be what defines our community. I hope that people’s perceptions will start to change, and they won’t automatically have the thoughts of Native Americans getting large sums of money when they hear Viejas, because that’s not what I want to be stereotyped as for the rest of my life. I think by creating opportunities the Tribe has helped tremendously with getting people to understand that’s not all we offer. What are your plans for the future in terms of your career? Will you be attending graduate school at some level? TeSam: I hope to be able to have a career in the field of criminal justice sometime, but after I get my bachelor’s degree I do want to get my master’s. After that I think I will be more focused on a career choice, but I don’t think you can ever have too much education so there could be more education to come for me after my master’s. What advice would you give Native youth today in terms of the importance of receiving an education? TeSam: I think receiving an education is very important for anyone, but especially for the Native youth because of the opportunities it can open up for us and our communities.
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