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American Indian College Advances

Phoenix-based school adds new leaders and classes, outlines ambitious building program.
New academic courses of study, the highest enrollment in decades, and the need to upgrade aging infrastructure have brought about a bold building program at SAGU American Indian College that will include two new three-story dorms and a multipurpose building.

Its new president, a church-planting pastor with backgrounds in academics as well as parachurch and cross-cultural ministry, is spearheading the enhancements. The improvements will double the capacity of the Phoenix Assemblies of God institution, the only multicultural post-secondary school with multiple majors serving primarily Navajo and Apache students.

Additionally, the college added Joel Cornelius, an AG pastor of the Oneida Nation, as vice president for student development on July 1. President emeritus David J. Moore will assist in fundraising for the capital project for the school, which had a fall 2020 enrollment of 110.

SAGU AIC’s mission is developing Christian leaders for ministry and marketplace opportunities, according to Jonathan D. Gannon, 46, who began his tenure as president June 1. While on-campus programs at the small school include Bible and ministry, business, and education, through its partnership with the Waxahachie, Texas-based Southwestern Assemblies of God University, AIC can enroll students in SAGU online to supplement programs offered at the Phoenix campus.

The new buildings in Arizona will replace half-century-old structures on the 10-acre campus that architects deemed beyond further renovation. Each 25,000-square-foot dormitory will house 96 students and cost $5.8 million. The second phase will include a two-story 30,000-square-foot multipurpose building to accommodate the library, classrooms, cafeteria, student union, administration, and a fitness facility adjacent to the gym. The school can break ground once funds and permits are in place, Gannon says.

The building program moves forward on the heels of COVID-19, which shuttered on-campus learning at schools nationwide, including SAGU AIC. An additional challenge for the college’s professors in moving to online learning had to do with lack of infrastructure on the reservations, where most SAGU AIC students relocated after the shutdown.

“Classes went online, but students without high-speed internet couldn’t take them,” says Joseph J. Saggio, SAGU AIC executive vice president and administrative dean, who noted a lack of internet service even throughout a large reservation’s biggest hotel. “When we sent students home in March 2020, we had to be creative in how they completed their assignments.” But most students had smartphones, which had much greater coverage. “I made sure my assignments could be viewed on a phone.”

Only the gospel coupled with education will truly transform and enhance indigenous communities, according to Gannon.

“On the reservations, we need more pastors and Christian marketplace leaders serving their communities,” Gannon says. In terms of infrastructure, “We’re going to make this campus as academically challenging as possible to attract students and build on the foundation that exists.”

AG missionary Alta Washburn planted AIC in 1957 to prepare indigenous peoples for ministry.

“It’s all about the students — creating a campus environment attractive to Native students and others on an increasing scale to honor the school’s founding principles as well as adapt to the constant changing needs of students in today’s world,” Gannon says.

In 2017, of 601 indigenous tribes in the United States, 190 Assemblies of God churches minister on 104 reservations in 27 states.

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.