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Dr. Robert A. Roessel Jr. (Founding Director) (1959-1966)

A picture of Dr. Roessel Jr.

Dr. Robert Roessel, Jr. is recognized as a legendary leader in the field of American Indian education. In 1959, Dr. Roessel founded the Indian Education Research Center (now known as the Center for Indian Education) at ASU, still the only center of its type nationwide. As part of his outreach initiatives while directing the Center, he founded the first American Indian Community Action Programs, which served as the template for American Indian community-controlled schools. Dr. Roessel also established the Journal of American Indian Education in 1961 which continues to serve as a preeminent scholarly publication in the field. While directing the Center, he completed his doctorate at ASU while mentoring countless students who went on to pursue legendary careers themselves, such as former Navajo Nation Tribal Chairman Peterson Zah who later became ASU’s first Special Advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs. 

Within his 55-year-long career in education, Dr. Roessel leaves behind a lifetime legacy of leadership. In 1966, he founded the Rough Rock Demonstration School (now the Rough Rock Community School) on the foundation of Navajo language, history and culture along with academics. In 1968, Dr. Roessel became the first president of the first tribally owned community college then called Navajo Community College (now Diné College). From 1966 to 1968, he was appointed to the War on Poverty Presidential Task Force and World Poverty Task by President Lyndon Johnson. In 1999, he was inducted in ASU’s Hall of Fame and in October of that same year he was honored with the university’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

His voluminous writings include “Indian Communities in Action,” “Pictorial History of the Navajo from 1860 to 1910,” and “Navajo Education: Its Problems and Progress.” Prior to coming to ASU, Dr. Roessel received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Dr. Roessel was born in St. Louis, MO, on August 26, 1926 and he passed away on February 16, 2006.