by Tawanah Reeves-Ligon
Unfortunately, despite representing about two percent of the population, Native Americans and Alaska Natives only make up about half of a percent of U.S. STEM careers according to one study. In order to combat this disparity, organizations like the American Indian College Fund seek to build programming and support ventures that offer greater access to education, support and resources necessary for students to grow and expand their career and networking opportunities.
One such program, the Indigenous Visionaries Native Women Leadership Fellowship Program, has been working to support Native women students for years. Diversity in STEAM Magazine was excited to interview the American Indian College Fund about this program and how it became the remarkable resource it is today for Native students and communities.
Diversity in STEAM Magazine (DISM): How did the Indigenous Visionaries Program come into existence?
American Indian College Fund: The College Fund has provided women’s leadership programming since 2010. The Indigenous Visionaries program emerged out of foundational programming in women’s leadership in 2017. From 2017 to 2021, four TCUs (Tribal Colleges and Universities) and 15 fellows participated in the Indigenous Visionaries program. The first iteration focused on arts, early childhood education and environmental science. In 2021, the American Indian College Fund (College Fund) launched the second iteration of Indigenous Visionaries. Key changes to the new iteration include expansion of eligibility to all 35 TCUs and the opportunity to focus their community-based project on a topic and field of study of their choosing.
DISM: What is its goal and mission?
American Indian College Fund: The Indigenous Visionaries Native Women Leadership Fellowship Program at the College Fund supports the empowerment and success of Native women students at TCUs through a year-long fellowship opportunity. Participants receive place-based and experiential, professional and personal development through guided training and cultural learning from their mentors, College Fund staff and a broad network of Native women leaders. This program seeks to address and dismantle systemic barriers facing Native women by providing the tools, opportunities and a network to support and strengthen the growth of our fellows; in turn strengthening families, TCUs and Tribal Communities. This space will elevate and increase the visibility of Native women by offering strategic opportunities that illuminate a path towards personal, educational, professional advancement and degree attainment.
DISM: How do candidates apply or get nominated? What are the requirements?
American Indian College Fund: As the Indigenous Visionaries fellows are paired with a woman mentor at their TCU, in many instances, mentors choose a student they would like to work with in this program. We’ve also seen students recruit mentors, and TCU Presidents recommend mentors and fellows to apply.
To apply for this fellowship opportunity, the TCU Applicant must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Be a current and full member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
- Have an identified Mentor and Fellow that will actively engage in their community-based project implementation and fellowship opportunities.
- Fellows and Mentors must live within the community served by their TCU.
- Mentors are an established woman faculty or staff member (such as a program director, grant manager, archivist, etc.) at a TCU.
- Fellows are undergraduate students enrolled full-time at an eligible TCU and have completed at least one semester.
- Applicants are at TCUs that support the advancement and leadership of Native women:
- Maintain a commitment to active participation in fellowship activities.
- Prepared to report and share impact for evaluation purposes.
DISM: What do you look for in a project, and is there a specific scope it has to cover?
American Indian College Fund: Mentors and fellows will work together throughout the fellowship term to strengthen personal, professional and academic skills that will enhance their leadership within their communities. This includes working together on a project that serves the community.
Applicants provide a summary of their community-based project and include a description of the following:
- Strategies for project planning,
- identify roles and responsibilities,
- implementation and what you hope to learn from this project.
They also describe how they will incorporate Native language and culture bearers into their community-based project.
Caption/Credit: Sasha Sillitti/American Indian College Fund
Sasha Sillitti (Three Affiliated Tribes- the Mandan (Nueta), Hidatsa and Arikara (Sahnish)) is a business administration student at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Sillitti also works as a student accounts counselor and accounts receivable manager at the college. Her project is to develop a recycling program. She will create a more efficient method of collecting and transporting recyclables, building community relationships, and increasing community awareness about recycling as a form of land stewardship. The Fort Berthold reservation does not have a recycling program, and the nearest drop-off for materials is 150 miles away. Pansy Goodall (Arikara of the Fort Berthold Reservation), the Business Faculty Department Chair, will serve as a mentor.
Caption/Credit: Harley-Daniel Interpreter/American Indian College Fund
Harley-Daniel Interpreter (Navajo) is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Diné College on the Navajo Reservation while working as the social media engagement agent in the Office of the President. Interpreter will conduct a voter outreach and education project to expand voter education, advocate for timely communication about voting, and ensure support of access to voting across the Navajo Nation during the midterm election. Crystal Cree (Navajo), director of the Office of Legislative Affairs and Policy at Diné College, will serve as a mentor.
Caption/Credit: Louise K. Waakaa’igan/American Indian College Fund
Louise K. Waakaa’igan (Anishinaabe) is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human services at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College in Hayward, Wis., while working at the college as the advancement coordinator. In collaboration with her mentor, she will create a “Kwe Book,” a history of women leaders and founders at the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College. Waakaa’igan will catalog their interviews and stories throughout the project for future generations. Faith Smith (Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe), a curator for the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, will serve as a mentor.
Caption/Credit: ArriAnna Henry/American Indian College Fund
ArriAnna Henry (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Bitterroot Salish) is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work and a certification of completion in intensive Salish language at Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Pablo, Mo. She holds an associate degree in chemical dependency counseling and is an All Nations Health Center intern working in the Behavioral Health Department. Henry’s project is the Paddle for Life wellness project. Young adult community members will participate in immersive Salish language lessons while crafting their own cedar canoe paddle to create both cultural and physical wellness. Rosemary Matt (Salish), the Native Language Teacher Education Department Head, will serve as a mentor.
We’re looking forward to learning more about these exceptional scholars and the projects they’ve developed to serve their communities. For more information about the American Indian College Fund and the Indigenous Visionaries Native Women Leadership Fellowship Program, visit collegefund.org.
Source: American Indian College Fund