UW–Madison awarded grant to develop educational pathways for Native youth

Logos of Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwe College and College of Menominee NationUW–Madison, in partnership with Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College and the College of Menominee Nation, has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support Native American students by fostering a path from secondary to postsecondary education. The grant will support collaboration among the three land-grant institutions in Wisconsin to broadly coordinate systemic efforts to support Native American education pathways across Tribal and public educational systems.

The project, Wisconsin Land-Grant System Partnership for Advancing Native Education Pathways, seeks to authentically engage Tribal Nations, university faculty and staff, and community members as partners in advancing the academic achievement and pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) interests of Native American students by integrating Indigenous knowledge and methods.

“Culturally responsive instruction that includes Indigenous knowledge is critically important for Native American student success,” says Aaron Bird Bear, tribal relations director for UW–Madison and the Division of Extension. “It’s hard to fathom that the U.S. was still attempting to eradicate Indigenous languages and cultures until I was in elementary school in the 1970s, and yet through the incredible agency of Native American nations, families and communities, tribal youth today are able to benefit from their ancestors’ wisdom through programs like the Wisconsin Land-Grant System Partnership for Advancing Native Education Pathways.”

Funding comes from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture New Beginning for Tribal Students grant and supports the development of inclusive collaborations and policies that build confidence for Native American youth across multiple support networks, including grades 8-12, higher education and professional development.

The project aims to achieve four main goals:

  • Develop and implement collaborations among tribal education departments, land-grant colleges, and K-12 school districts to strengthen the effectiveness and use of culturally responsive Native Education Pathways from K-12 and higher education into STEM careers.
  • Engage Native American youth in precollege Indigenous science learning experiences that integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge, evidence-based content and educational processes that are proven to work for Native American students.
  • Strengthen collaboration between Native American communities and school districts to build trust and provide culturally competent professional development and learning opportunities that support and strengthen Native American student success for college pathways.
  • Improve equitable and sustainable resources, policies and systemic infrastructure for coordinating strategies among land-grant college partners for Native American students’ postsecondary admission, retention, and progression into successful STEM careers.

Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong, director of Earth Partnership Indigenous Arts and Sciences in the College of Letters & Science’s Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at UW–Madison; Amber Marlow, dean of continuing education at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College; and Brandon Frechette, youth program coordinator at the College of Menominee Nation, will jointly lead the project. The lead team at UW–Madison includes members from Earth Partnership Indigenous Arts and Sciences, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the Nelson Instiute for Environmental Studies.

“This is an opportunity that is the first of its kind, allowing the three land-grant institutions in the State of Wisconsin to work together to create Native American-specific programming and resources to better prepare all Native American youth from all Tribes within the state. It allows the three schools to share resources to better identify the needs of the Native American community,” says Brian Kowalkowski, dean of continuing education for the College of Menominee Nation. “The College of Menominee Nation and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College are uniquely prepared to share and teach other institutions about the history and culture of their people, which will lead to a better understanding and more successful students, both Native and non-native.”

In the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, UW–Madison’s belief that education must enhance people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom, supporting Native American educational achievement aligns with the university’s commitment to public service. As such, UW–Madison remains committed to advancing Native American student success.

The College of Menominee Nation’s long-range goal is cumulative Nation building through the infusion of learning along with American Indian culture, preparing students for leadership, careers and advanced studies in a multicultural world. The long-term goal for Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College is to provide academic offerings that enrich and strengthen Ojibwe tribes and their future generations through instruction that is highly sophisticated, engaging, exciting and cutting edge.

“Historical in nature, this project is the first formal collaborative approach between all three land-grant institutions in Wisconsin. The project has the ability to effectively recruit, foster, and engage native students in their educational journey. It is exciting to be a part of that,” Marlow says.

The curriculum is guided in partnership with business, industry, Tribal government, and higher education with preparation of future employees in mind, from enrollment to graduation.

“A deeply collaborative approach between tribal, university and K–12 partners has the potential to transform education to be more equitable and culturally responsive, as well as building bridges, trust and respect. I am hopeful the outcome of our work will have long-lasting benefits into the future for all learners,” says Bauer-Armstrong.