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Our goals at NASWSI include increasing student enrollment in the field of social work, especially among native communities in New Mexico and beyond. We aspire to be a resource for tribal social workers, tribal communities and Native students coming to New Mexico Highlands University. Learn more about NASWSI below and check out our course offerings and upcoming trainings.
Our mission is to educate and train social workers to provide services for tribal nations and indigenous communities by promoting resiliency, cultural knowledge, wisdom and healing.
Our vision is to establish a Native American lens of social work practices that educates and trains helping professionals to successfully respond to Native American families’ and communities’ needs that promote healing and resiliency.
César G. Abarca, Ph.D, MSW
Dean and Professor, Facundo Valdez School of Social Work
I am a Xicano community organizer, scholar-activist, and urban farmer. I earned my interdisciplinary doctoral degree in Sociology and Social Welfare from Boston University, and my BSW and MSW degrees from San Francisco State University. I have practiced social work in multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic communities in California, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. I am bilingual and bicultural, and my teaching experience includes social policy, research, community projects, social enterprises, environmental justice, community practice, cultural concepts, and master's projects. I have taught in social work programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, in person, and online. My research interests are immigration (theory, practice, and policy), employment, community development and engagement, grassroots community organizing, ethnographic methods, and social movements.
Melissa E. Riley, Ph.D.
Director, Native American Social Work Studies Institute
Melissa Riley (Mescalero Apache), Ph.D., is the Director of NASWSI. Dr. Riley is also a consultant to several national/state/tribal agencies and public/private organizations. She has managed federal projects within the DOJ and OVC. She also serves as a direct service provider for several New Mexico Tribal communities, including social work, home evaluations, guardian ad litem services, and family conferencing.
Senior Administrative Assistant
Rebecca is from the Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. She received her elementary and secondary education on the reservation and attended Griswold College in Cleveland, Ohio. She worked for Westinghouse Electric Co. and Caterpillar Tractor, Inc, before relocating to Indianapolis in 1990. In Indianapolis, IN., Rebecca served as Executive Director of the American Indian Center of Indiana, operating the JTPA program, and was President of the Indiana Native American Business Association and Native American Cultural Association. She and her husband owned and operated Bear Creek Gallery, a Native American and southwestern jewelry, art, and interior décor retail store. Rebecca speaks the Keresan dialect, and before coming to New Mexico Highlands University, she served as the Acoma Keres Language Coordinator for the Pueblo of Acoma, creating the Acoma Keres Dictionary.