Shandiin Herrera’s commitment to fostering an inclusive community for native students at Duke and her advocacy for Navajo women and men have earned her numerous awards and recognition at Duke and beyond—including the Terry Sanford Leadership Award.
The prestigious award, named for the founder of the Sanford School of Public Policy, is presented annually to a graduating senior. Nominators said her leadership is rooted in her genuine passion for transforming the lives of others.
Herrera grew up in Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo Nation, which spreads out over three states and is the size of West Virginia. Her mother is Navajo and father is Latino. She is the first graduate of Monument Valley High School to attend Duke.
At Duke, Herrera struggled to find the support she needed from people who shared similar experiences. “I didn’t know how to ask for help or who would understand my circumstances,” she said.
In her junior year, she found supportive people at the Sanford School of Public Policy when she declared her major. In an article in The Chronicle, Herrera wrote, “They never made me explain myself or made me feel like I had to convince them I belonged there, because they were proud to have me. It is because of the faculty at Sanford that I am here today, a senior at my dream school.”
She also found supporters in Elise Goldwasser and Suzanne Valdivia in the Sanford Office of Career and Internship Services, who helped her with her academic and personal endeavors at Duke and saw firsthand her passion for helping others.
“Shandiin is super determined, looks at problems from a lot of different perspectives, and leads by doing,” Goldwasser said.
Valdivia added, “she feels a genuine responsibility to be pushing forward for native students on campus, while at the same time, maintaining a deep connection to her tribal community.”
Working for Change
Herrera worked to create for future native Duke students the support she wished she’d had at first. She helped found the first Native American sorority at Duke, Alpha Pi Omega, and served as both the treasurer and powwow chair for the Native American Student Alliance.
Herrera also shined in the classroom. In his letter nominating her for the Terry Sanford Leadership Award, Professor Jay Pearson wrote, “She proved herself to be industrious, motivated and dependable, but perhaps most importantly she demonstrated an uncommon capacity for integrating conceptual arguments into absolutely brilliant assessments of how to resolve contemporary public health and societal challenges.”
Herrera’s numerous academic accomplishments at Duke include becoming an Udall Scholar, a Gates Millennium Scholar, and a Chief Manuelito Scholar.
She has also been recognized as a Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, as the 2018 Undergraduate Student of the Year by the American Indian Graduate Center, and as a winner of the Forever Duke Student Leadership Award by the Duke Alumni Association.
Herrera is determined to use her education and leadership skills to serve her people by enhancing policies for Navajo families living on the reservation. After graduation, she will work at the nonprofit Lead for America, assessing advocacy and policy proposals for the president of the Oljato Chapter of the Navajo Nation.
Portions of this piece were adapted from an article in Duke Today.