Kitchell establishes scholarship fund at Northern Arizona University

By John Christian Hopkins
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) 12-08

Kitchell Contractors and NAU College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences gather for scholarship signing ceremony.    Photo by Jerry Foreman/NAU

Kitchell, one of the state’s leading construction-industry firms, has long been an ally of Northern Arizona University and its Native American students – and now the company is looking to build on the successful partnership.

During a December 10 ceremony at NAU’s Blome Building, Mark Pendleton, president of Kitchell Contractors, along with Dr. Barry L. Lutz, interim dean of Northern Arizona University’s College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences and Tom Rogers, chairman of NAU’s Department of Construction Management, signed an agreement for the company to provide a scholarship fund for Native American students studying construction management.

“Our commitment is indefinite,” Pendleton said. “It’s an investment, what we’re doing here. It’s not just in the Native American community, but in education.”

Under the new program, Native American students studying construction management can apply for the annual award beginning in January 2009.

“This scholarship will provide financial support to one Native American student each year working to complete a degree in construction management, helping students achieve their educational goals,” said Brad Gabel, vice president and division manager of Kitchell Contractors’ Native American Division. “It will also benefit Native American communities by ensuring qualified professionals are at the table during the construction process, protecting and respecting their cultural traditions.”

Students interested in applying for the need-based scholarship must be full-time juniors or seniors enrolled in the construction management program at NAU. Students must also be enrolled with a state or federally recognized Indian tribe or Alaskan nation. The selection criteria include a recommendation of internship with a construction company, membership in the student chapter of the Associated General Contractors and participation in programs such as Toastmasters.  

“This is an exciting opportunity,” Lutz said. NAU and Kitchell have had a strong partnership since 1995, he added. This new scholarship is just the latest reason to celebrate Kitchell’s commitment to Native American students, Lutz said.

“It really has been a partnership, and it’s been a great one,” Pendleton said.

Kitchell has hired many NAU graduates and Pendleton said he truly believes they enter the workforce “a step ahead.”

“The NAU imprint is a diversity of thought,” Pendleton said. “In this day and age you have to be flexible, you have to be ready to be a team player. That’s what I am, too. I may be the president, but I’m a team player.”

The university is extremely proud of all its construction management students, Lutz said. But watching Kitchell reach out toward the Native students is inspiring, he added.

“This is really a very wonderful thing,” Lutz said.

The new Kitchell scholarship builds on the company’s commitment to Arizona’s Native communities, a partnership that spans more than 27 years, Gabel said.

“We established the Native American Division in 1999 to demonstrate our commitment to the Native American communities and to fully support our Native American clients,” Gabel said.


Kitchell became the first Arizona-based contractor to become a licensed casino vendor with the state of Arizona. The company also conducts annual cultural-sensitivity training workshops for its own employees and other industry professionals.

With more than 1,300 Native American students from 62 tribes attending NAU, the university is one of the top 10 universities in the country enrolling and graduating Native American students, said Shelley Silbert, director of Development for Strategic Initiatives. The Kitchell scholarship is the first step in NAU’s new $5 million “Native Roots, Native Futures Campaign,” that is intended to make NAU the leading university in the nation for serving Native American students, she said. The campaign is aiming to raise funds for a Native American cultural center on NAU’s north campus, strengthen existing programs and provide scholarships, Silbert said.

NAU has approximately 250 students enrolled in the construction management department and over the past 10 years, the department has averaged about 20 Native American students a year, Rogers said.

There are some three dozen Native students plying their construction management skills all across Arizona and for other tribes throughout the U.S., Rogers added.

In addition, nearly 30 percent of the Native graduates in the program have been women, Rogers added.

“This is going to be a great help,” Rogers added. “And there’s always room for individual help.”

The new scholarship comes too late for graduating CM student Nolen Nelson, but he was happy to see it introduced nonetheless.

As a student – the first in his family to graduate college – he is keenly aware of the struggle to find financial aid to help offset the cost of higher education, Nelson said.

“This will be a big help for future construction management students. I want to thank Kitchell for its generosity to the Native American community and the construction management department,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he basically grew up around construction, with older family members plying the trade. He would watch and then gradually help out where he could, he explained.

It was a natural conclusion for him to pursue a CM degree, he said.

Ironically, Nelson’s path into the field mirrors that of Jeff Begay, business development manager for Kitchell Contractors’ Native American Division. Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation, worked tirelessly to see this scholarship program implemented.

As a youth, Begay watched as older family members were involved in building hogans, stone and adobe houses.

“I was always around it, I guess I just grew into it,” Begay said.

Construction has long been a male-dominated field, so Begay said he was happy to hear that nearly 30 percent of Native CM graduates were female.

“We have hired a lot of women at Kitchell,” Begay said. “At Kitchell, our construction specialists bring a personal commitment to understanding each community’s priorities, cultural traditions and governmental processes,” said Begay.

The commitment of NAU’s Department of Construction Management to meet the challenge of hiring qualified construction professionals within the tribal communities provided a new partnership for the ongoing efforts of Kitchell Contractors’ Native American Division.

“We are proud to offer this scholarship, and look forward to the opportunity to work with these NAU students as part of our internship program and when they enter the work force,” Gabel said.

For more information about the scholarship, contact the NAU Department of Construction Management at (928) 523-4679. Applications are due December 30.

Kitchell is a diversified corporation providing general contracting, construction management and real estate development services to public and private sector clients.

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