Growing up in the shadow of Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Ariz., Arlando Teller remembers seeing airplane contrails in the sky and wondering where they were from and where they were going. That curiosity led to a love of aviation and his future career. Today, Teller is the acting Deputy Division Director for Navajo Division of Transportation. He has been instrumental in creating a partnership between the Navajo Nation, Armstrong Inc., and Embry-Riddle in offering scholarships for Navajo students ages 14-19 years old to attend Embry-Riddle’s career exploration summer programs.
“I had a vision in 2012 to send students to Embry-Riddle. It finally happened last year and I’m grateful for the support from the Navajo Nation President and Navajo Nation Council, as well as the partnership with Armstrong Consultants, Inc. and Embry-Riddle. Last year, two students attended summer programs. This year, there are four and I know that will continue to grow,” said Teller. “I’m proud of what we are accomplishing.”
Teller graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Business Administration from the Prescott campus, but it was only by chance that he attended Embry-Riddle. Teller’s Navajo clans are Naasht'ézhi-Táchii'nii (Zuni clan adopted into Red Running Into the Water People clan) born for Tó'aheedlíinii (The Water Flows Together clan). His maternal grandfathers are Tódich'ii'nii (Bitter Water clan) and his paternal grandfathers are 'Áshįįhi (Salt People clan).
“The community of Chinle, the Navajo Nation and Riddle provided scholarships to me so that I could attend college,” said Teller. “I had opportunities at several universities like Dartmouth and University of Rochester, but then I met an admissions counselor from Embry-Riddle. Everything she said made me want to be a part of that. It was a turning point.”
Since graduating, Teller has had a very successful career in airport and transportation management in Arizona and California, including being the liaison between approximately 17 tribes in the Bay area with the California Department of Transportation. Prior to assuming the acting deputy directorship, Teller managed the Navajo Nation’s airports. In that position, he advocated for improvement of the Nation’s airports.
Between Teller’s education and experience, he understands how an aviation industry is vital to a 21st century economy. Through this program, he hopes the Nation and its partners’ investment will increase the number of Navajo pilots and entrepreneurs and grow the Nation’s aviation industry.
He is currently a Board Member on the Arizona State Transportation Board and Arizona Airports Association Board of Directors and is Vice President of New Mexico Airports Managers Association. He attributes his work ethic to his family’s strong foundation and what his professors taught him at Embry-Riddle.
“I do things with vision, passion and humility. Both sets of my grandparents did not speak English. I was raised by my mom as a single parent. When I came to Embry-Riddle she said to me, ‘Remember where you come from. Be good. Take care of your whole self.’ This is still important to me,” said Teller. “At Embry-Riddle, the instructors showed up for every class. I knew what they expected from me. I took that professionalism with me and I still have it.”
Teller’s vision to introduce more Navajo young people to aviation began the moment he stepped on campus in 1994. One of his first actions was to meet with then-Chancellor Steve Kahne.
“I met the chancellor and showed him the brochure proclaiming we were a multi-national university with only two Navajo students, myself and Wynema Earl (PC ’96). That meeting led to an initiative with Bill Thompson, the Director of Admissions, and myself to recruit on the Navajo Nation. That continues today and now these summer camp scholarships are encouraging even more Navajo young people to explore Embry-Riddle,” Said Teller.
“Our summer programs are designed to offer students a firsthand glimpse into a career. Arlando is very passionate about students being able to fly, so the partnership is good for all,” said Wendy Martinez, Director of Summer Programs at Embry-Riddle.
Arlando agreed. “Students and families are excited. Kaitlin Begay, from Oak Springs, AZ, told me that when her mother dropped her on the first morning of camp, her mom told her she was proud of her. Then Kaitlin told me that she wants to pilot the Navajo Nation President. That means a lot to me. I would like to see that happen.”
Navajo high school student Shannon Spencer participated in Embry-Riddle’s first-ever Helicopter Exploration camp. He logged three hours practicing landings, hovering, and flying in addition to field trips and academic classroom work.
“I’m very thankful for the scholarship. If I didn’t get this then I wouldn’t have been able to attend. It’s been great!” said Spencer. “Three years ago my cousin started taking flight lessons and I became interested too. Now I’ve grown to really love it and definitely want to have a career in aviation. Right now I’m in the Civil Air Patrol, so when I get back I will be telling the others about the camp.”
Navajo students who are interested in the Embry-Riddle Summer Programs scholarship should contact Arlando Teller for more information at 505-371-8300.
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