Northern Oklahoma College Native American Mentor Hanna Wensman shared her thoughts on student mentoring at a “Natives Guiding Natives” Panel Discussion at the Cultural Engagement Center at NOC Tonkawa Thursday afternoon.
Wensman is of Shawnee, Red Lake Ojibway and Muskogee (Creek) descent. She is one of 10 mentors for over 400 Native American students at NOC.
The mentoring program is managed by Native American Success Specialist Ted Moore as part of the Native American Serving Nontribal Institutions (NASNTI) grant.
Wensman earned a bachelor’s in Health Education and Promotion at Oklahoma State University where she served on the Sports Medicine Staff for Cowboy football. She is currently a Masters of Public Health student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.
When her graduate degree is completed, she wants to work within a tribal clinic’s health and wellness department.
Wensman addressed a number of issues in the panel discussion including advice for native American students.
“Find the proper balance between cultural obligations, school, and work,” she said. “I spend a lot of time talking to students about time management and how to balance all aspects of their lives. It is the most important thing to do.”
“It’s a challenge to balance school and culture together,” she added. “Family and culture are both so important to Native Americans and so there is pressure for students to go back home for cultural events that can interfere with school. That is a challenge to balance the two things because they both are important.”
Wensman said she is thrilled to be part of the mentoring program where she stays connected with around 35 students by e-mail every two weeks.
“I didn’t have mentors when I was in school at OSU,” she said. “It is so valuable to have someone that you can turn to when you’re having problems or just someone to talk to that has been where you are at. If nothing else, I try to encourage students to continue their education. I tried to find upper classman that could give advice on certain classes but I would have enjoyed that mentor relationship as a student.”
“I try to explain to students that I mentor that it’s not going to be easy and there are going to be challenges,” she added. “But the rewards of that degree are so important. Doors are opened that were never opened before. Students have to keep the ultimate goal of a degree as an incentive to work toward.”
She also tries to convey financial literacy to students that she mentors.
“That new pair of shoes may be cute or that video game may be a lot of fun to play but you have to take care of the priorities,” she said. “When you have rent to pay or an electric bill to pay, you pay it first and then you do the fun things later. You have to sacrifice the short term pleasure for long term goals.”
Wensman discussed her biggest challenge as a student.
“As an undergrad finding a study groove was hard for me,” she said. “It took the longest time for me to learn to manage my time. I had two jobs and was going to school, that’s tough to do. By my junior year, I found the balance that I needed.”
“As a graduate student, I lost two cousins to suicide and that’s been difficult. I was in Oklahoma City and alone and that was tough. That has been a challenge to overcome.”
When asked about her inspiration for getting and education, she talked about her mother.
“I apologize for getting emotional,” she said as her voice quivered. “But my mother drove 90 minutes to Northeastern State every day to go back to school when me and my brothers were little. She did it for us and now I see the sacrifice she made and the reason she did it. When I would complain about driving to Stillwater in the rain I would stop and think what my mom did and that inspired me to stay the course and reach my goals of a degree. She was such a great example.”
She also talked about maintaining her cultural identity from both native and non-native Americans.
“I’ve been told that I am ‘too white’ to be native,” she said. “That is very hurtful to hear but you can’t let what people say bother you. I am proud of my culture and just because I can’t go home for every cultural event doesn’t mean that I don’t love my culture and my family. I want to use the education I receive to help my culture in the future.”
Wensman also talked about giving back.
“I am studying Public Health because I want to give back to my community,” she explained. “I will never forget my roots and where I come from and that is so important for me. I hope the students I mentor can see that passion and encourage them to get an education and give back as well.”
The conversation was recorded and will be available for viewing on-line at a later date.