Higher education officials have formed a coalition to try to turn around the historically low number of American Indian students who go on to college in Nevada.
“A lot of students from rural areas haven’t been away from the reservation at all, and when they come to larger urban areas and onto a university campus, it’s quite overwhelming,” said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the state Nevada Indian Commission. “So they need that help to make the transition.”
To meet that need, the Northern Nevada American Indian Higher Education Collaborative was formed last fall by the University of Nevada, Reno, Truckee Meadows Community College, Western Nevada College and Great Basin College.
To further the collaborative’s mission, UNR hired Kari Emm last August as the full-time outreach and retention coordinator at its Center for Student Cultural Diversity. Emm, a member of the Yerington Paiute Tribe who was raised on the Walker River Reservation in Schurz, tells American Indian students they can succeed in college but must take the tougher courses that will prepare them. They also must learn what financial resources are available.
“I tell them, You can make this happen. It can happen for you and here’s how you can do it,’” Emm told the Reno Gazette-Journal. Across the state, the percentage of American Indian students attending Nevada colleges and universities has trailed far behind other minorities for the past decade.
From 1996 to 2006, the percent of American Indian/Alaskan students increased by 20 percent compared to 63 percent for Blacks, 138 percent for Hispanics and 148 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders, according to statistics from the Nevada Higher Education System.
American Indian students represent only 1 percent of the student populations at UNR, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada State College and the College of Southern Nevada. With 4 percent, Great Basin College in Elko has the largest percentage of American Indians students, compared to 3 percent at Carson City-based Western Nevada College and 2 percent at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno.
Brittney Santos, a UNR freshman and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said having someone like Emm to talk to has helped her. “College is definitely a stressful environment at times, and to have someone who knows what you’re going through and who has gone through it, too, really helps you,” said Santos, 18, who hopes to become a pharmacist.
Chelsea O’Daye, a member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony who lives on the Hungry Valley Reservation, said Emm checks on her and the other students to make sure they’re on track to earn their diplomas.
“Kari is someone we can connect with,” said O’Daye, a UNR freshman who wants to become a pediatrician and work at the colony’s Reno clinic. This semester, UNR is offering a course in Native American studies. The Native American Student Organization was formed last fall, with Santos and O’Daye heading the public relations and marketing efforts.
“So the club has become more known around campus and other students are beginning to understand our culture,” Santos said.
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