Often, Native American women become leaders to fill a need in the community. That’s certainly been true for Crystal Jensen, a registered member of the Choctaw tribe.
“That’s definitely how I’ve evolved, without realizing it, to use technology to empower communities,” Jensen said.
In one of her first jobs, the school district added several technological innovations and upgrades in a short amount of time, which created the need for her to help support the district’s teachers, families, and students as they learned how to use the new systems.
“I naturally learn technology pretty easily, and the teachers, faculty, students, and their families were my friends, and the entire community was important to me, so I did what it took to learn the technology and to assist wherever needed,” she said. “It was really about relationships.”
Jensen is a PDK Emerging Leader and the founder of both Integrity Technologies, Inc., and the nonprofit Community Empowerment Resource Center (CERCle), which are both recent startup organizations focused on using technology to help rural Native Americans living on reservations learn, connect, and collaborate. Examples of projects include exploring ways technology can be used to help preserve Native American culture by digitizing languages and stories, informing environmental preservation through mapping territories and resources, and increasing communication and collaboration through social media.
One of her models for how Integrity Technologies and CERCle will work together is based on the Costa Rican Omar Dengo Foundation, in which corporations, nonprofits, and nongovernmental organizations come together to improve public schools and healthcare through interagency collaboration.
“The country has a literacy rate of over 95%, and technology is integrated in schools even in rural, impoverished areas,” she said.
CERCle and Integrity Technologies examine best practices worldwide so they can be replicated with Native Americans and other indigenous populations. To that end, CERCle has partnered with several scholarly professionals, including many leadership and educational technology doctoral students, to inform its practices with a globally experienced, culturally relevant, and localized effort for the greater good. These efforts are guided by the local community’s needs, wants, and current practices. CERCle and Integrity Technologies provide a community for technology experts to share their knowledge and skills with groups in need in both a virtual and physical location.
“We’re making this information available in one centralized hub,” said Jensen, who is the recipient of the 2011-2012 American Indian Graduate Center Fellowship, the 2011-2012 American Indian College Fund award, and the 2010-2011 American Indian Science and Engineering Society award.
CERCle and Integrity Technologies are part of Jensen’s ongoing doctoral work and are operated in partnership with other leaders who are working to support technology integration. In fact, her doctoral studies at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University in California have grown from her passion and her experience using educational technologies to assist Native American and indigenous people and communities in need, while emphasizing the importance of respecting indigenous knowledge throughout the process.
“Everything that I’ve done is based on filling a need in the community because of a relationship,” she said.
And those relationships are what led her to Pi Lambda Theta.
“I joined PLT in order to connect with other amazing thinkers and other leaders in the field,” she said.