KCATA teamed up with Haskell Indian Nations University for a pilot internship program intended to give students a realistic look at the post-college world of management, supervision, and program development.
Chantel Yazzie is Diné from the Navajo Nation, and a Senior at Haskell in Lawrence, Kansas. Yazzie was selected to intern at KCATA. She is working both remotely and at the KCATA offices.
The program’s goal is to provide a real-world experience for Native American students to apply their knowledge before they leave college. This pilot internship will help to provide students specific skills to pursue city, state and federal bids that are earmarked for minority/Native American entrepreneurs. Yazzie will spend time learning about KCATA’s business certification and bid process. The internship also encourages the students to share their Native American history, culture and business knowledge with employees.
Yazzie said when she saw that the internship would expose her to finance, procurement and marketing, she wanted to apply, knowing she’d need those skills for what she has planned after college: a construction firm focused on improving and building housing in her community.
“Once I read up on it, I decided to apply,” Yazzie said. “I’ll need those skills for running my own business.”
“I want to give back to my community. I plan to start my own construction company that can create housing for my community. There’s not much out there: the houses that are around are not as nice as I would want my community to have.”
Yazzie also says that the construction company would create quality skilled jobs in an area that good jobs are needed.
While at KCATA, Yazzie is working with different departments for one or two weeks at a time, starting first with Communications and Marketing, and then learning in Human Resources. She said that she has already learned a lot and been offered a lot of experiences.
“Although most things are still virtual, I’m still gaining a lot of knowledge,” she said. “What I find most amazing is talking with Robbie Makinen, the CEO. He is giving me the opportunity to attend government relations and Board meetings. It’s all valuable and exciting knowledge.”
President and CEO Robbie Makinen says the experience is benefitting everyone involved.
“Chantel has impressed everyone with her vision, her commitment to her community, and her energy to learn as much as possible," Makinen said. "We are grateful to Haskell Indian Nations University for working with us to create this internship. It is proving to be valuable to both Chantel and all of us who have had the pleasure to work with her.”
Yazzie was surprised at how big the operation of RideKC and KCATA is. For example, she just took a deep dive into Human Resources payroll codes, and the agency’s new attendance policy. And on the other end of the spectrum, she’s spent time at East Village Transit Center working on information for bus operators.
“Seeing the innovation happening at East Village, I know people who take public transit will appreciate that transit center and realize how amazing it is, especially during the winter season,” Yazzie said. “Another thing I found exciting was Zero Fares. I know it is very appreciated by the public. Furthermore, this is how I want to be as a business, to give back during unfortunate times.”
While COVID has changed the way school and her internship operate, she is adjusting. She missed being able to meet most people in-person and greet people with a handshake. But she appreciates that both her school and KCATA are putting safety first, with online classes and meetings being the norm.
When not at Haskell, Yazzie lives in Iyanbito, New Mexico. It’s on the Navajo Nation. She lives with her mom, and younger siblings, while her older siblings live nearby in Iyanbito.
Congressional staffers and Haskel University student Chantel Yazzie (right) take a tour of the KCATA headquarters.