On the Tohono O’odham Nation when youth graduate from high school many move to Phoenix or Tucson. But, Pachynne Ignacio decided to move to Hanover, New Hampshire, nearly 3,000 miles from home.
Ignacio, 18, decided to hang up her flip flops after she became the first Tohono O’odham youth from Baboquivari High School (BHS) to be accepted to Dartmouth College.
“My mom has always told me to be humble, but she told me now to be proud of my accomplishment because it’s a pretty big deal,” Pachynne said. “I think this is one of the best things I can do not only for myself but for my family.”
Ignacio found out during her anatomy final in December 2015 that she was accepted to Dartmouth College.
“I knew colleges were giving their announcements that day, I was freaking out and scared,” she said. “During my final I kept switching back and forth between my test and email. When I found out I was accepted I was jumping up and down crying.”
Ignacio’s mother, April Ignacio is proud of her daughter.
“I think anyone that young and committed to their goals gives everyone watching some sort of inspiration,” April said. “The trick is having enough self-discipline to meet those personal goals you set for yourself. I’m very proud of my daughter because she worked so hard to meet her goals. And to be the first Baboquivari student to be accepted to Dartmouth is huge.”
Pachynne grew up on the Tohono O’odham Nation in Sells, Arizona. The Nation is located about 60 miles west of Tucson and is the size of the state of Connecticut—making it the second largest Native American reservation in the U.S.
Pachynne was raised by her late grandmother Verna Enos and her mother, who had her when she was 17 years old. She has three younger brothers, Micah, Vine and Brandon.
Pachynne played basketball and volleyball, and ran track and cross country throughout middle school and high school. Her freshman year at BHS, she was the only girl on the cross-country team. BHS is one of two high schools located on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
When she was not playing a game or running a meet she was participating in the Future Farmers of American Club (FFA) where she served as president, vice president and secretary.
Among her accomplishments she received honor roll all four years of high school and was a 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar. She is a FFA award recipient and she received the Baboquivari Award for demonstrating academic success and knowledge of Tohono O’odham culture. She has participated in five fashion shows including Native Fashion Week in Denver. Lastly, she was the valedictorian for the BHS class of 2016. Her ultimate goal is to be an agriculture teacher.
Pachynne didn’t know much about Ivy League colleges nor did she put much thought into attending one someday.
Steve Abbott, associate director of admissions for Dartmouth, contacted the college counselor at BHS, Rebecca Cohen and made a trip to the school. Abbott met with students and shared information about Dartmouth. He also told the students about how the college was established to educate Native Americans, which caught Pachynne’s attention.
“When I started talking to Rebecca about where I wanted to go for college, I was unsure… I was also unsure of what I was capable,” she said. “She asked me about Ivy League and I didn’t know where any of them were or how I’d pay for it.”
Pachynne started doing research on Dartmouth and attended College Horizons, a non-profit organization based out of New Mexico, with three other students from BHS.
“College Horizons is a two-part organization,” Cohen said. “They hold summer camps and are college application boot camps for students.” Cohen took the students to the week-long camp in Bowdoin, Maine.
“All the counselors at the camp felt that Pachynne was such a great person,” Cohen said. “I got so lucky working with Pachynne, she is a one in a million type of student.”
Dartmouth was one of the colleges at the camp and Pachynne decided to apply early—she submitted her application in November. She then applied for Dartmouth’s annual Native Fly-In Program, which provides high school seniors a chance to gain first-hand knowledge about Dartmouth’s student services, admissions and financial aid criteria. Students also get a chance to meet with members of the Dartmouth Native community, faculty, and staff.
Pachynne attended the program with 50 other Natives, and was the only Tohono O’odham student to attend the program in 2015.
“It felt like home when I visited Dartmouth,” she said.
But her home is in the Sonoran Desert, where she spent the summer with her family and friends. She boarded a plane August 28 in Tucson to begin her journey.
“When we got to the airport it all became so real,” she said. “I just didn’t feel anything at that moment… I wasn’t excited… I wasn’t nervous. I was just there. Then we got my plane ticket and I felt really sad.”
She cried for much of the plane ride. “I’m sure the people who sat next to me were very uncomfortable,” she said.
Pachynne started classes on September 12 and is getting used to college life, making new friends and enjoying her classes, despite being homesick.
“I’ve been very homesick, but I know no one wants me to fail,” she said. “So I’ve been doing my best to keep my mind off home.” Her mother has sent her some care packages to help her cope with being away from home.
Pachynne has had some trouble adjusting, and like many college freshman, she is realizing that college is quite different than high school.
“At first I didn’t know how anything worked and I wasn’t asking for help like I should’ve been,” she said. “I was embarrassed so I fell through the cracks a little bit and I wasn’t doing what I came here to do—to get an education that I could use to help my people.”
She’s working on figuring things out, and plans on finishing the semester strong. She’s also looking forward to making a trip home soon.