MPA Tribal Governance Alums Destiny Petroske ‘18 & Debra Penny Jim ’18 Begin PhDs at New Zealand’s Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi

New Zealand


Debra Penny Jim during her hooding ceremony with three very important people in her life: her son, niece, and Puanani Nihoa, Assistant Director of Tribal Governance.                                                                          

Destiny Petroske

Prior to MPA

Destiny: Before being in the MPA I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degrees. I had a bachelors from Northwest Indian College in Native Studies Leadership and a bachelors from Western Washington University in  Anthropology with minors in Communications and Diversity in Higher Education.

Penny: I graduated in 2005 with a Bachelors in Business from Central Washington University. I gained a new job just before I graduated, moving from a 15 year career working on Family Trees, for my Tribe the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. I researched in Washington State for programs specific to Native Americans and found the Business Masters at Spokane and the Evergreen Master of Public Administration, Public Policy concentration path. I met Puanani by email and she worked with me to complete my application to Evergreen.

Choosing MPA at Evergreen

Destiny: I heard about the program through the Native Studies Leadership program at Northwest Indian College. Throughout time there has been many staff and students that went on to the Evergreen MPA program. Throughout my journey through school I tried almost every form of schooling. I went to a community college, university, tribal college and trade school. I really enjoyed going to Northwest Indian College because of having Indigenous Methodologies being a part of the whole program. I enjoyed the university setting as it was much disciplined. I enjoyed community college because it offered an opportunity for me to learn how to build community. All of these created a need for me to be in a place where I could focus on what our Native communities need and also build my own identity. I felt that from the experiences I heard from other students that attended Evergreen that they were happy to be around Native students at this level. It was a unique experience and I felt like we created this unique community of Native scholars.

Penny: The Evergreen Master of Public Administration, Tribal Governance concentration, was one of only 2 programs available in Washington State. I learned of the program in a publication by Indian Country Today, the National newspaper. There are several topics I became more interested in while at Evergreen, my paper to enter the program focused on water. I learned a lot from different perspectives while at Evergreen.

Tribal Governance Concentration

Destiny: My concentration was Tribal Governance, but my capstone was on Northwest Indian College (NWIC) - Student Support Services. For this topic, my teammate and I had both attended NWIC. We wanted to see what the needs were in order to support students at NWIC. I was also a current employee at NWIC. I am the TRiO Director at NWIC and we often see students that have a wide variety of needs. This project focus was meant to see what the needs were of NWIC students to feel supported.

Penny: I was completely apprehensive about applying for the program at Evergreen and I missed deadlines because of it. Puanani Nihoa worked with me; following up with emails and contacting me ahead of deadlines to ask me to apply. As one of only two programs focused on Native Issues, Evergreen became more important to me.

Favorite Experiences in the Program

Destiny: One of my favorite experiences in the program was towards the end. I remember that we were all stressed and focusing on our final capstones. One of our classmates got overwhelmed and decided to scrap the work they were working on for their capstone, having a moment of uncertainty. Instead of ignoring the student and going back to our capstone projects, a group of us stopped what we were doing and worked as a team to get the work together in time. This is an example of why I enjoyed the MPA Tribal Governance of 2016-2018. We never let someone quit. We did our best to be there for each of our members and give our undivided attention to each other. This is only one of many times that this occurred for our cohort. We did not always agree but we respected each other greatly. We understood what it meant to be a leader in our community and more importantly we knew how much pressure was on each of us. We wanted to represent our Nations well.

Penny: The best part of the program was the understanding that our group was very unique in the program and different from any before. Our wonderful professors said quite often that they learned right along with us.

Advice for Prospective & Current Students

Destiny: If there is any advice that I could give it would be to see the MPA as an opportunity to build as many connections and networks as you can. In general, higher education is designed mostly for us to make connections. People tend to only see school as bunch of assignments but really the purpose of school is building connections and to find people that assist us in building the life we want.

Another piece of advice, though I imagine professors may not like this response, is don't worry when you cannot finish all the readings. Skim reading is how I got through every degree. Also prioritize the readings. I did not find it helpful to print off all the readings and look at them at the same time. I put dates on each one; when they would need to be started and when they had to be finished. This helped me not to worry as much about reading everything.

Finally, in my master’s I went through a lot of changes. Throughout that two years I moved twice, was unemployed, divorced, took on a large position, family members passed away, etc. The bottom line is that it is okay for life to seem overwhelming and still get through school. You will be grateful that you stayed even in the tough times.

Penny: My advice is it will go by very fast and you can accomplish so much more than you think. Everything you face: the long nights of reading, writing, driving to or from class will be worth it. Remember to write your evaluations for yourself!

Staying in Touch

Destiny: An important reason why I think many of us enter the MPA is the faculty and peers we hear that we are going to work with. Many of the faculty/peers I had throughout my time in 2016-2018 have assisted me as well after I graduated. One of the speakers we had ended up becoming a colleague as I went into my doctorate. Others have been a reference, or we have worked on small projects together.

Penny: I still email with my instructors and check in.

Post MPA

Destiny: Since my MPA I have continued my position as the Northwest Indian College TRiO Students Support Services Program Director. A requirement for the position was for me to finish my master’s degree. I also decided to go back to school. I began my PhD in Indigenous Development and Advancement at the Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi PhD program located in Auckland New Zealand. My focus will be involving work with Maori people and Native Americans/American Indians journeys through Higher Education. A personal project I have been designing is a non-profit for Native Americans/ American Indians needing support through college as well as programming that can assist Tribal Nations wanting to offer additional support for their Native students wanting to go to college.

Penny: I continue working for my Tribe as a Director of the Child Care and Development Fund a Federal program serving low income families with child care costs.

Utilizing MPA Knowledge

Destiny: I use it every day. When I assist students on our campus I walk over to my shelf of all the books from MPA and hand them one. I find each book we read useful in some way. Other ways I have used MPA knowledge is through grant writing and through editing current policies. Other ways that I have utilized the knowledge gained from MPA is through the budgets I have created as well as giving me the patience to read through complex articles. In the TRiO program we have a lot of complex regulations to follow so it is very important for me to understand each one in detail. MPA was life changing because it helped me understand the workforce, my community, and myself.

Penny: The knowledge I gained helps me in daily job duties to see solutions not attempted or tried before.

I place a very high value on the Evergreen MPA program it opened my eyes to all the influences on my life and seeking higher education was planted in my by several people. I came to understand we are all related and can influence the world, we can stand together and reach across as MPA graduates and work with other races and within our own communities and make a difference.

Pursuing a PhD

Destiny: From the age of 8 years old I told my mom that one day I wanted to have a PhD. Though at that time I was not sure what kind of concentration I would have, it was something I wanted from a young age. I remember looking up how long it would take to get a PhD and it said the average person would be in school 10 years or longer till most people reach their doctorate. It seemed like a long time, but I remember thinking that I wanted to be a researcher. I wanted to find things and share them with people and somehow I thought that is what a doctorate degree would do. Then when I was 18 years old, I worked for Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, WA. I was the cleaning crew that cleaned the machines and cleaned bathrooms. I worked the graveyard shift full-time and was a student at Spokane Falls Community College full-time. Most of the staff in my department had been there at least 10 years. We talked about life a lot on our shifts and I told various staff members that I wanted a doctorate someday. The staff called me Dr. Petroske. They were always so kind to me. They would keep me awake throughout my shift and tell me that one day this would all pay off.

Penny: I learned of the New Zealand program from my cohort and spoke to Puanani and she got me in contact with Alan Parker one of the founders of the Evergreen Program. I continue saying I better work towards the PhD now or else I might not try it later on.

Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi PhD program

Destiny: I found out about Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi PhD program through many coworkers at Northwest Indian College. Then I found out that a couple of my classmates from the Evergreen MPA may also attend. This turned into exploring Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi as well as a couple other programs. After working with a couple PhD programs I felt the Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi was the best program for me.

Penny: I overheard a few people talking about the Te Whare Wananga o Awanuirangi program and did an initial interview. The interviewer was very specific in their questions to me about my expectations for myself and what expectations my Tribe had about me as well as whether I thought I will make massive amounts of money after. I was then sent to visit/interview with both instructors of this program, so I had two more interviews before entering the program. My initial plan is to research tribal indigenous perspectives on water, including Canadian, and Maori authors, as well as speaking with Yakama tribal elders.