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Northwest Missouri State University

Student Spotlight

Gabby Curtis moved off the Navajo Indian reservation in Ganado, Ariz., to play basketball at Northwest Missouri State and achieve her goal of completing a college degree.

Gabby Curtis moved off the Navajo Indian reservation in Ganado, Ariz., to play basketball at Northwest Missouri State and achieve her goal of completing a college degree. (Photo by Darren Whitley/University Relations)

Dec. 9, 2013

Northwest student overcomes diversity challenges to earn degree

As senior Gabby Curtis prepares to graduate from Northwest Missouri State University she credits the University with helping her reach her goals and overcoming obstacles.

Curtis made a name for herself at Northwest on the basketball court, but she learned most of her basketball skills on the Navajo Indian reservation in Ganado, Ariz., where she grew up. In the dry desert, her basketballs often went flat, and she came home with a new ball after almost every shopping trip, she said.

“Playing sports on the reservation is tough because it’s hard to find somewhere to play,” Curtis said. “There is no concrete court. You have to play on the dirt or sand. That’s where many of my ball handling skills came from.”

On the reservation, Curtis also learned many life skills. She learned how to live without convenience. The reservation was rural, but her family and others had to travel at least an hour to get to the nearest retail store.

Curtis always knew she would leave the reservation, but it would be difficult. On the reservation, families are accustomed to a way of living that is strictly family-orientated. She credits her mom for always supporting her to leave the reservation.

“My mom always told me to get off the reservation because she had lived there her whole life,” Curtis said. “She told me to be adventurous, travel and see the world.”

Before attending Northwest, Curtis attended Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kan., where she also played basketball. Attending Cowley and Northwest were both eye openers for Curtis. She saw a new world besides the one that exists on reservations. When Curtis visited Northwest she said she fell in love with the scenery of the campus and its conveniences.

“It was a culture shock because I had only been surrounded with Native Americans,” Curtis said. “I just thought everyone was Native American.”

Curtis became a corporate recreational and wellness major and chose to attend Northwest on a basketball scholarship. During her basketball career at Northwest, she was named a first-team All-American by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, MIAA Player of the Year, a top defender in the MIAA, scored 1,000 points in 79 collegiate games and helped lead the 2010-2011 team to the basketball program’s first-ever NCAA Division II Final Four.

After her college basketball career ended, Curtis accepted an internship assisting the Northwest women’s basketball team and says it is hard to watch and not play.

Curtis’ dream now is to go back to Ganado and coach basketball. She wants to be a role model for the younger generations. After graduation, Curtis hopes to return to Ganado and teach younger generations about life beyond the reservation and the importance of education and sports.

“Earning a degree at Northwest means a lot to me,” Curtis said. “Back in high school, during my freshman year, I would have never thought I would be here getting a degree. It’s a big accomplishment for me, knowing I can do what I love and become a coach. I will be able to take my degree back to the reservation and show everyone that if I can do it, so can they.”

For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468