Montana State University

Spring 2015

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Mountains and Minds

‘A triple threat’ May 12, 2015 by Anne Cantrell • Published 05/12/15

Montana State University education professor Jioanna Carjuzaa calls her work the best of all worlds.

“At MSU, I get to do what I love in Indian country as well as work closely with undergraduate students and do exciting research with graduate students,” she said. “Here, I’m able to form relationships with students, and that’s very important to me.”

Carjuzaa specializes in educating students about multicultural diversity.  She is well versed in the many aspects of diversity, but linguistic diversity is her main area of expertise and her passion. As a person who was born abroad and later earned degrees in the United States—and whose life has been transformed by learning—part of why Carjuzaa is drawn to education is because she identifies with students who are outside of the majority.

“I’m the first in my family to graduate from high school, so I can really relate to students that are underrepresented or might not have the support systems of other students,” she said. “I really do love to mentor students.”

Lynda Ransdell, dean of the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development, calls Carjuzaa a “triple threat.

“She excels in all three areas of our mission—research, teaching and service,” Ransdell said. “I really don’t think there is anybody who has done so much in all three areas and who has been so successful.”

Carjuzaa is the first distinguished professor in the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development, as well as executive director of its resurrected Center for Bilingual and Multicultural Education. She is internationally recognized for her work in Indian Education for All, has a bestselling textbook and received in 2013 the top national honor in her field, the G. Pritchy Smith Multicultural Educator of the Year Award.

But it’s not just her credentials that are impressive to her students—it’s that Carjuzaa shows she really cares about them.

“The thing that always stuck out to me is how much time she puts in with her students,” said Adelle Donohue, who took Carjuzaa’s multicultural education class and also worked on an Indian Education for All project with her. “She makes sure students are learning and that they have high-quality activities in class. Projects and assessments are really meaningful.”

Donohue graduated from MSU in spring 2014 with a degree in elementary education and now works as a teacher on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Polson.

Renee Gilpin, who graduated from MSU in 2013, noted that Carjuzaa expects the best from each of her students.

“While in her class, I felt understood, appreciated and valued,” Gilpin said. “I grew to think of Jioanna as a friend: a wise, trustworthy and caring friend.”

Carjuzaa believes that education is a great equalizer, but with that power comes a responsibility to be attentive to issues of educational equity.

“Teaching is all about valuing individuals’ cultural heritages and validating their life experiences,” she said. “We should embrace multiple perspectives and see the strength that lies in our differences.”

Carjuzaa didn’t set out to be a multicultural educator, but she said her life experiences have made her specially qualified for the role.

Carjuzaa, who is Greek and has traveled, studied, worked and lived around the world, ended up graduating from high school in Pennsylvania. From there, she went to the University of Colorado Boulder, where she had a swimming scholarship and a language scholarship to study abroad. She had never been to Colorado before, but was drawn to the West.

After earning a degree in journalism in 1979, Carjuzaa worked in advertising in Genoa, Italy and then took a position as an art director at a design firm in Denver. Eventually, she decided to go to graduate school for business administration.

But Carjuzaa struggled with a managerial accounting course required for her MBA, so an academic counselor suggested multicultural education after learning of her extensive experience overseas and fluency in multiple languages. In addition to English and her heritage Greek, Carjuzaa has studied French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Nakoda, an Indigenous language.

The suggestion clicked. Carjuzaa went on in 1990 to receive a master’s degree in multicultural education with an emphasis in English as a second language. Then, in 1996, she earned a doctorate in multicultural, social and bilingual foundations of education from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Carjuzaa began her teaching career in higher education in Boulder as a business English instructor. Then she took a tenure-track faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania, and her husband, Gilles Carjuzaa, began teaching at Temple University. However, Carjuzaa quickly decided she didn’t want to be in the city. As the couple worked to find positions for both of them in the same location, Carjuzaa went on to teach and receive tenure at both Rocky Mountain College in Billings and Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.

“I wasn’t even looking for another position, but a friend told me of this opening (at MSU),” said Carjuzaa, who admits it’s rare to have received tenure at three different institutions. “I had always wanted to come back to Montana.”

She began at MSU in 2006, teaching courses in education and Native American studies. She has also devoted countless hours to helping students organize and run the MSU pow wow and other fundraising events, and she has served as the co-adviser for the MSU American Indian Council student group for the past nine years. She also is the facilitator for Indian Education for All professional development opportunities at MSU; to date, she has hosted 18 events.

Carjuzaa said she is grateful for the relationships she has developed as she has worked on issues important to American Indians.

And, she is very proud of her work in Indian Education for All, the Montana constitutional mandate that aims to ensure that every Montanan, whether Indian or non-Indian, learns about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner.

“Dr. Carjuzaa has positioned herself as an authority on Indian Education for All,” said Walter Fleming, chair of MSU’s Department of Native American Studies.

“She is often called on to give her opinion and insights.”

That Carjuzaa is known as a champion of Indian Education for All is particularly significant because she is non-native, Fleming said. He added that she is highly valued in Indian country.

“She works very well with native communities because she doesn’t come in as somebody who is the expert, but rather as somebody who is the learner and listens attentively,” Fleming said. “She wants to do right, and people can tell when someone wants to do something in a good way.”

Carjuzaa said she is simply honored to be able to do the work that she loves. And, she is grateful that her work doesn’t feel like a job; rather, it’s her calling.

“If I won the lottery, I don’t think anything would be different tomorrow,” she said. “I’m doing what I love and what’s important to me.” ■