Clarification: The paragraph about retention rates was changed to more accurately reflect the success of other support programs sponsored by the American Indian Education Foundation.
For Native American students coming into Montana State University-Northern, the transition to on-campus life can be difficult, more difficult than for other students, but this year the university is offering some help.
Funded by a grant from the American Indian Education Foundation, the new College Quest program offers additional, more personalized, help in getting acquainted with college life and the different world it brings.
“Anyone, Native or non-Native, can have difficulty coming to school for the first time, ” Lyn Tysdal, program director of the AIEF, said. “This program helps students start on the right foot, gives them the support they need. ”
She said she was recently at Northern to meet with the people who would be running the program that received the $5,000 one-year AIEF grant, and was really impressed.
One of those people is former Admissions Director and recently re-appointed Multicultural Center Director Stacey Gonsalez, who came to Northern as a student from Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation herself.
According to Gonsalez, the point of the program is to attend to the needs of the individual students and to help them build relationships on campus, to have them be “able to come back in August and already have made connections with people on campus who will be able to help them be successful as college students and hopefully we can retain them for two years or four years, depending on their program. ”
The AIEF has experience in this retention arena, according to AIEF Spokesperson Helen Oliff. According to Oliff, the number of Native American students who make it past their first year in school is around 21 percent. With support of the kind of “transitional camp” that Northern is offering in College Quest, Oliff said these rates increase. Some of the foundation's programs have helped achieve retention rates of up to 95 percent.
The program this year has 26 students. Eleven were originally expected for the first session this week, of which five made it to the first day. The other 15 will be in town for the second part, during regular student orientation at the end of August.
The students spent the day touring campus, learning about class registration, student clubs and key locations around campus before heading out for some canoe activities in the Bear's Paw Mountains.
Similar informative sessions continue today.
The goal, for everyone involved, is to have the program not only carry on but also grow.
“Their proposal really stood out because it’s just starting out, ” Tysdale said. “We like to help new programs achieve sustainability. ”
For Northern, and their partnership’s with tribal colleges from Browning to Fort Peck, that wish is surely not just held by the program’s foundation sponsor.