Naasz Shares Message of Encouragement, Hope at Occupational Speaker Series

A woman in a pink hoodie is talking and gesturing with her hands. She has a big smile on her face.
Nicole Naasz, NTC student success coordinator at the American Indian Resource Center, speaks during NTC’s Occupational Speaker Series on Feb. 15, 2024.

Nicole Naasz’s message to Northwest Technical College students and employees was clear and to the point — do not allow others to determine your worth or your value to society.

“Do not let anyone else tell you what you can and cannot do,” she said. “You decide that. Sometimes how we plan our journey is not the way it goes. But if you can’t take a step back, you may not see where your path is leading you.”

Naasz, who joined the NTC community in June as its first full-time American Indian Resource Center student success coordinator, spoke to a small gathering of NTC students, faculty and staff as part of the college’s Occupational Speaker Series on Feb. 15.

She recounted her background, growing up as a child of young parents in a small religious community, which she described as “strict and abusive” and where there were no expectations for women to pursue lives beyond motherhood or being a housewife.

“The perspective I grew up in was not healthy,” she said. “It did not respect me as an individual, and I decided I was going to determine my own value for myself.”

She saw education as her path toward a better future. With dreams of being a chiropractor dashed by low test scores she attributed to extreme test anxiety, she refocused on a future in physical therapy. She began her education at Bemidji State University — which she chose because “none of my classmates were going there and I wanted to be in a place where I didn’t know anyone” — and after a year began exploring transfer opportunities to schools with physical therapy programs.

When additional roadblocks derailed those plans as well, her maternal grandmother — who Naasz credits with essentially raising her — encouraged her to explore what made her truly happy.

That conversation guided Naasz into BSU’s applied psychology program. She graduated and then spent about 25 years providing in-home services to families in Cass Lake, Blackduck, Red Lake and Bemidji.

Naasz says her experience with those families, which she described as “being in the trenches in my field,” was part of what drew her to NTC.

“I could see the kids from these families, who may have been in elementary school when I first started working with them, are now at a point where they want to move beyond,” she said. “In this role, I can help bring their support back in a different context and see them moving beyond where they have been.

“My message to them is that they do not have to stay stuck in their cycles.”

Naasz said she believed her story could help encourage others to move beyond their own obstacles.

“It is important for people to know that other people have had challenging journeys, too,” she said. “Hearing their stories is how you create community, empathy and understanding. It’s important to share.”