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Jennifer Jones has an inspirational message that is summed up in one word.
Yéego. It’s a word in the Navajo language that, loosely translated, means diligence and hard work.
“To me it means follow you dreams, go for it,” said Jones, a junior in Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University majoring in mechanical engineering.
Jones wove the meaning of yéego into her platform when she won the title of Miss Indian ASU in April.
In addition to developing a platform, the Miss Indian ASU pageant required contestants to write an essay and participate in competitions in evening wear, spirit, school pride, and talent.
“My platform was yéego and the importance of pursuing education for Native American youth and providing encouragement in that direction,” Jones said.
“I have been privileged to have people backing me up and pushing me to pursue my education. I want to bring that king of support to others who may not have it,” she said.
In addition, she aims to be a be a role model and a goodwill ambassador for ASU, represent all Native American students at the university, speak out on issues affecting native youth and bring a face to them.
Jones is carrying her message as she appears on behalf of ASU, including at the Tribal Nation Tour with the ASU American Indian Initiatives Office over the summer.
In June, as part of the tour, she traveled with some ASU athletes to the Grand Canyon for a three-day trip to visit a school serving grades kindergarten through seventh grade in the Supai Village on the Havasupai Reservation.
Her journey started in Peach Springs, where she met Miss Hualapai, Jewel Honga, who shared information about her culture and provided gifts for the Supai Village students.
The eight-mile hike to Supai Village began at the Havasupai Hilltop trailhead, a remote location that portends the adventurous trek down into the canyon.
“This was my first time hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so I was excited and scared,” Jones said. It took about three hours for Jones to make it to Supai Village. Once everyone in her party arrived and got settled, their first order of business was to perform community service by cleaning out a school storage room and organizing materials for teachers.
Athletes in the group led students through a sports camp, teaching drills and techniques for volleyball, track, cross country, and soccer. All of the ASU students hosted an assembly where they spoke with the youngsters about their experiences and offered words of encouragement.
“It was a great experience, especially since the kids were interested in who I am and asked questions about my royalty status,” Jones said.
She said a highlight was when, after passing out ASU gear, two young girls asked to take photos with her.
“Little did I know that day that the youngest (girl) was the first attendant to Little Miss Havasu. She was smiling and said, ‘I’ll be the next Miss Indian World.’ In that moment, I knew that I had brightened at least one girl’s day and that’s the greatest gift that comes from life,” Jones said.
Jones hiked further into the canyon to three falls, Mooney Falls, Havasu Falls, and Little Navajo Falls, with students from the school. The climb out of the canyon took her about four hours.
“I’m honored to have made the trip since it was my first time and to come away with a successful feeling was more than I could ask for,” she said.
Jones is continuing her work with the American Indian Initiatives Office, participating on student panels to speak about ASU, promoting the university at events, and giving presentations and talks about the Navajo culture.
She participated in events at the beginning of the school year, such as Spirit, a welcome event for Native American students that allows Native American students to meet each other bond together and, share their interests.
In addition to her appearances as Miss Indian ASU, over the summer Jones was a mechanical engineering intern with General Electric in North Carolina. She worked with components that control power and voltage in energy transformers for buildings. It was her second internship. Her first internship was at GE in Connecticut.
She also is active in the Barrett Indigenous Culture Association, an organization of Native American honors students that she helped found.
“We wanted a group where we could explore our cultural identity, have cultural acceptance and encouragement,” she said.
BICA hosted a reception with renowned Native American author Sherman Alexie, who came to Barrett in 2015 to deliver the Rhodes Lecture, one of the honors college’s signature events. Last spring, BICA also presented a fashion show featuring Native American designers.
Future plans for BICA include community volunteer work and promoting the organization at university events and information sessions. Currently there are 15 BICA members.
Jones, set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May 2017, plans to attend graduate school. Her goal is to work in the area of renewable and sustainable energy for Native American tribes.
“I want to help make sure we are aware of the reality we face that energy is an important resource and that it should be distributed and used wisely. I also want to promote education for youth and encourage them to take what they learn back to their tribal homes and make their communities better,” she said.