Sequoyah Fellows are the heart of AISES. At every National Conference a special breakfast is held to welcome new fellows and recognize the level of commitment to the AISES mission and the AISES family embraced by Sequoyah Fellows, the organization’s lifetime members.
The 2021 Sequoyah Breakfast was extra special because it welcomed 161 new AISES Sequoyah fellows — 74 new 2020 fellows, as the Sequoyah Breakfast that year was postponed due to COVID, and 87 new 2021 fellows. Aaron Yazzie of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Montoya Whiteman, AISES senior director of marketing, were this year’s Sequoyah Breakfast speakers.
Over the years, the support of Sequoyah Fellows has been instrumental in enabling AISES to sustain innovative programs that contribute to the progress of thousands of students as well as professionals and academic communities. AISES Sequoyah Fellows embrace that spirit of spreading knowledge through a one-time membership payment of $1,000 or more. In addition to lifetime membership and a lifetime subscription to Winds of Change magazine, Sequoyah Fellows receive a unique, personalized engraved medallion and are recognized at every National Conference at the Sequoyah Breakfast.
The Sequoyah Fellows lifetime membership program was named in honor of one of the most influential figures in Cherokee history. In 1821 Sequoyah devised a way to not only preserve his tribe’s Cherokee language and culture but also, after the Indian Removal Act took effect starting in 1830, stay united in the face of dispersal and encroachment in the tribe’s new territory in Oklahoma. Sequoyah’s invention was a system of writing — the syllabary — based on the 86 syllables he identified in spoken Cherokee. His syllabary quickly fostered literacy and printing throughout the Cherokee Nation and is still in use today.
When conference-goers entered the ballroom for the Closing Ceremony, there were many gasps of delight as they saw how beautifully the banquet space had been decorated by the Local Volunteer Committee and AISES staff. Traditionally, the menu of the closing banquet features foods of local Indigenous people, and the bill of fare in Phoenix — proposed by the AISES Phoenix Professional Chapter — honored that custom deliciously with dishes featuring green chili, squash, quinoa, guava, and prickly pear.
Emcee Lillian Sparks Robinson began the evening by introducing the Elder Blessing. Remarks from student speakers Madison Anderson and Avery Tilley followed. Anderson is pursuing a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, and Tilley is tackling a dual major in fisheries and wildlife with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine and molecular genetics and genomics at Michigan State University.
During the meal, musician Sage Cornelius provided lively, crowd-pleasing entertainment on his traditional violin and seven-string electric violin in multiple musical genres.
The Closing Ceremony is also an occasion to recognize outstanding achievement and contributions to AISES. The Partner Service Awards and the Professional Awards were presented, as was the highest AISES honor, the Ely S. Parker Award, which went to Board Chair Emeritus Rick Stephens. (For more on award recipients, see Meet the Award Winners). An important milestone observed at the Closing Ceremony was recognizing and appreciating the outgoing members of the AISES Board of Directors, Adrian Riives and Amber Finley. Sequoyah Fellows were also recognized at the banquet.
The Closing Ceremony of the National Conference provides an opportunity to recognize and thank outgoing members of the AISES Board of Directors, and to welcome incoming members. This year Amber Finley and Adrian Riives completed their terms as secretary and Senior U.S. National Student Representative, respectively.
Beginning his first term on the all-volunteer Board of Directors is Sequoyah Fellow Jonathan Clark, San Carlos Apache Tribe. He is currently project manager at the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation. Clark holds a graduate degree in information systems management and has nearly two decades of experience in IT management. He has been involved with AISES since his undergraduate days, served two terms as president of the Phoenix AISES Professional Chapter, and co-founded the Rainbow Gathering Talking Circle. He gives his time to causes that support inclusion, especially in education. Clark also served on the founding board of regents for San Carlos Apache College and as a corporate trainer for the Human Rights Campaign promoting safe spaces. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development named him to the prestigious list of 40 Under 40.
Elected to a continuing term is Board Chair Gary Burnette, Cheroenhaka Nottoway, a vice president at IBM with more than 30 years of experience in technology. He has held many roles at IBM, often involving leading large global teams. He serves as co-chair of the company’s Corporate Level Council on American Indian and Alaska Native Diversity. A Sequoyah Fellow, Burnette is the winner of the 2017 AISES Professional Award for Executive Excellence. He also serves his tribe as a council member.
Together, the members of the 2021–2024 Board of Directors contribute an impressive variety of experience, and expertise, combined with a determination to promote the inclusion of Indigenous people in all areas of STEM endeavors.
Gary Burnette, IBM Corporation
Michael Laverdure, DSGW Architects
Rick Stephens, Retired Boeing Executive
Dr. Grace Bulltail, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Jodi DiLascio, RG24seven
Deanna Burgart, University of Calgary
Andrea Delgado-Olson, Natives in Tech
Kristina J. Halona, Northrop Grumman
Dr. Adrianne Laverdure, Ascension Health
Dr. Traci L. Morris, American Indian Policy Institute, Arizona State University
Dr. Wendy F. Smythe, University of Minnesota Duluth
William Tiger, Retired GM Executive
Jonathan Clark, San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation
Following the Closing Ceremony, the much-anticipated powwow brought together dancers of all ages, musicians, and spectators who came to appreciate the regalia and the talent of the dancers and drummers.