For Benjamin Scharfenberger,the parallels in earning his bachelor's degree at Northern Arizona University and training in the martial arts for most of his life have merged into a distinct connection. As the diabetes coordinator and educator at Native Americans for Community Action (NACA),a Flagstaff-based community health clinic,Scharfenberger faces daily challenges head on, and knows that focus on his work today is both bringing him success in his relationships with clients, and guiding him in his plans for the future.
"My day-to-day experiences working with diabetes patients have impacted me. I know now that I'd like to get an advanced degree in public health nutrition and further my managerial abilities. I want to be a decision maker." Scharfenberger says he had never considered graduate school before launching his career. "I'm proud that I actually completed my bachelors and that I am building a career in a great field, but I want to learn more."
As the diabetes educator at NACA, he faces numerous challenges. Not only does he work with patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes, or are at risk for developing the disease, he works with perceptions about diabetes that could worsen the likelihood of developing this chronic, but preventable, condition. For example, it disturbs him that he often sees families at NACA that regard an overweight child, not an active one, as the norm. As both an expert in the martial arts and physical health, he sees this as an opportunity to do more. Additionally, Scharfenberger says that his Navajo heritage allows him to be culturally sensitive as he reaches out to clients. He can let families and patients know that he understands where they're coming from, and he knows they will listen when he tries to help.
"My goal is to teach others to strive for and achieve balance and self determination, to develop as more successful, healthy, and productive people," Scharfenberger says. He has the opportunity to help others reach these goals in his position at NACA, and he knows that while college helped him get his feet wet, his martial arts training helped him "develop and refine personal character, preparing me for life's challenges."
Scharfenberger has studied the martial arts for more than half of his life, and taught them in the community for many years, often to youth in substance abuse programs. Training and teaching kung fu has taught him the values of honesty, respect, determination, and perseverance. According to Scharfenberger, these values helped tremendously when he entered his degree program at NAU. But even armed with such attitudes, he quickly learned that, just like the martial arts, earning a degree demanded that he face his fears and conquer them.
"When you don't grow up around college educated people, things like a college degree and a successful career do not seem obtainable. But now that I have been in the field for a while, it has grown less intimidating." Scharfenberger is grateful for his professors, especially in exercise science, who were supportive, patient, and had a sense of humor. He appreciates that they brought their real life work experience into the classroom. "I was given the tool box, and I'm using it. But I keep learning, and am proud to say that I am getting good at what I do."
Physical training in the martial arts, and academic training in exercise science, have brought Benjamin Scharfenberger full circle. As he faces the challenges that disease and diversity present, particularly in Northern Arizona, he is prepared to conquer each day's obstacles, and take on tomorrow's opportunities.