By Tim Leeds
A local student is finishing his undergraduate work as the leader of the student body at his university, icing on the cake for his list of achievements and awards.
Jon Swan, son of Robert Swan of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and Sue Swan of Havre, was elected president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana last spring, the culmination of his involvement in student government there for four years.
"According to our constitution, I'm the official voice of ASUM," Swan said.
Other honors for Swan have included being selected a Harry S. Truman scholar, receiving a diversity award at UM and being selected as a representative of the U.S. educational system for a trip to China.
The nice thing about the student government position is that he can pick and choose his issues, Swan said. His No. 1 issue is higher education funding in the state.
He will work to establish a working relationship with legislators, and show them that putting money into education is an investment for the state, he said.
Other major issues for ASUM are neighborhood relations and establishing a student bill of rights, Swan said.
Citizens of Missoula are pushing for regulations on occupancy of buildings near the campus, he said. Their goal is to limit the number of unrelated people who can live in a house to three.
That would cause problems for students trying to group together to room off-campus, Swan said. The university is creating a full-time staff position to work with local residents.
Swan said he wants to collect as much input from the students as he can to draft the student bill of rights. ASUM hopes to have it completed and signed by both the student government and the administration by next spring.
Swan's educational career began in Havre. He graduated from Havre High School in 1999, after attending St. Jude Thaddeus School, a Catholic school.
"My middle name's Paul, so Mom named me after the pope," Swan said.
He was active in a variety of activities, playing football until an injured shoulder sidelined him in his junior year.
Swan was also a Havre High wrestler and golfer. He played baseball, and was in theater and speech and debate.
At UM, he is involved in the American Indian Business Leaders organization, participating in a variety of activities there.
"Really, trying to build retention rates of American Indian students is kind of an invisible goal," he said.
The group works on professional and personal development of students, participates in a national competition conference each year, and hosts a tribal economic development conference at the university.
"Campus people come to hear many of the issues that plague American Indian reservations," Swan said.
That is an issue close to home for Swan. Although he has always lived in Havre, he regularly visits Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
Swan's father, Robert Swan, and his brother, Jim Swan, work at RJS and Associates, formed by Robert about six years ago. The consulting group works with Indian communities across the nation and is very successful in writing grant applications for programs on reservations.
Jon plans to work on tribal economic development issues after he graduates in May 2003 with a degree in finance.
"Going back out to Rocky Boy is certainly in my plans for the future," he said.
Swan received the Diversity Advisory Council Student Achievement Award three years in a row, the first to ever do so, he was told.
The award is for students who have "gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure diversity strides forward on campus," Swan said.
He was surprised and honored to receive the award, he said. It's not just about skin color or gender issues, but about diversity of ideas, Swan said.
Other national and international awards and activities are helping Swan prepare for his goal.
He was a participant in this year's Silk Road to China program, which got back to the United States on Aug. 12 after a week in China.
"It was a wonderful experience. I wish I would have had a little more time to experience what the everyday person goes through in China," he said.
The group of Americans mainly worked at Tsingua University in Beijing. Swan was one of six Montanans, all UM students, faculty and staff, on the trip. The majority of the nearly 1,000 Americans were from California.
The work was primarily with faculty and students from the university.
"We learned about their education system. We also spoke on ours," Swan said.
Another honor Swan received is ongoing, and could lead to other opportunities, he said.
Swan was one of 77 students in the nation awarded a Harry S. Truman Memorial Scholarship. He is the first UM student to win the scholarship in 15 years, he said.
In May, he attended a weeklong leadership conference at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., culminating in an awards ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo.
Swan will attend a 10-week summer institute in Washington, D.C., next summer. The institute consists of graduate-level seminars and workshops and an internship with federal agencies.
He went through a long application process to get the scholarship, culminating in a 20-minute interview in Denver. He had no idea coming out of the interview whether he would be awarded the scholarship.
"It's known as the longest 20 minutes of your life. It's pretty cutthroat," he said. "Even if you're not picked it's a great experience."
The internship in Washington will give him opportunities in the future, with what he learns and the contacts he makes, Swan said.
"To me the most important thing about it is the networking and learning from it," he said.
Once he graduates from UM, Swan said he might look for work immediately, but is applying to some graduate schools.
"I'm applying for some opportunities to go international. If those end up falling through I'll find work. If they do happen to work out I'll be overseas," he said.
His educational experience has been fun and gone by fast, Swan said. He added that he's ready for it to be over.
"I'm looking forward to getting done with it and coming back and using it for the betterment of Montana," he said.