To reach students with higher education aspirations, a growing number of universities are offering programs to recruit and prepare Native American students for a transition to college life that can bring on a wrenching emotional conflict as they straddle two worlds.
Many young Native Americans find themselves divided by their desire for a higher education and the drive to stay close to home to hold onto a critical part of their identity. Sometimes, families discourage children from pursuing college, fearing once they leave the reservation they won't come back.
"These students could be in a classroom with hundreds of kids and no one will be like them so it's really good for these programs to pull all of these kids together," said Ahniwake Rose, the director of the National Indian Education Association.
Dozens have implemented mini-college boot camps, including the University of California, Los Angeles, Yale and Duke. Last week, Watson found himself at the University of California, Riverside, where he was joined by other students, including some as young as 12.
The programs challenge the idea that tribal customs and higher education don't mix, said Joshua Gonzalez, the director of Native American Student Programs at the university 60 miles east of Los Angeles and hundreds of miles from Watson's home on the Navajo Nation.