Northern Oklahoma College completed a five-year project “Merging Tradition and Technology: Engaging Native American and Low-Income Students to Complete College” this fall.
The $1.74 million project was funded through the United States Department of Education’s Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTI) grant program and three key initiatives were led by grant staff to help NOC strengthen and improve existing services; expand access, and develop student support.
To expand access to high demand, high quality courses, NOC instructors redesigned 29 online courses to meet the rigorous Quality Matters standards and set up six Tribal Access Sites for computer/ITV course access at Kaw Nation, Osage Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Pawnee Tribe, Ponca Tribe, and Tonkawa Tribe. The redesigned courses and the access sites provided opportunities for students to attend class at a distance, breaking a transportation barrier for many.
Sara Hawkins, NASNTI Distance Learning Specialist assisted with setting up and institutionalizing the access sites. She is enthusiastic about the sites adding, “the sites allow Tribes and their communities a place to study, do homework, take tests and a place to work toward their dreams.”
“Northern Oklahoma College is a much better place because of the many great services and spaces that we were able to develop due to the funding of the NASNTI grant,” said NOC President Dr. Clark Harris. “Both Native American and non-native students will have an enriched experience because of these services and spaces. The large mural by Osage artist, Yatika Starr Fields will open people’s minds to the Native American experience. We will all consider this excellent art and our Native American neighbors as students, employees and community groups use this gathering space. The access that has been developed at the six tribal locations will be a great benefit to our Native American students. This provides NOC with one more avenue to assist our Native American community. Thank you to everyone that put in tremendous amount of work to make this project a reality.”
Tribal Education Director for the Tonkawa Tribe, Lisa Norman complimented NOC’s project and plans to “continue to work with NOC, striving for the betterment of our Native American students.”
In addition, the Pawnee Nation plans to retain the equipment and provide access to O-Live, ITV, and online courses offered at NOC. Students interested in utilizing any of these sites may contact their tribal director for the spring semester or NOC’s Enrollment Management Department.
The second initiative of the NASNTI project was to develop and improve online services. An online learning assessment was created and helped students and faculty gauge aptitude for distance learning. Additionally, Financial Aid processes were reviewed and improved by providing an Ask an Advisor link, as well as creating videos that explain the sometimes-daunting process of applying for financial aid.
The grant project also assisted with NOC’s conversion to a new student information system, Jenzabar One. Through this state-of-the-art system, students have the capabilities to plan a degree path, enroll themselves through the myNOC portal, and track information needed for transferring to the next institution, if necessary.
The final initiative for the project involved developing support for Native American student success. Several activities were developed through this initiative, but most notable was the renovation to create the Cultural Engagement Center (CEC). This area of the Tonkawa campus is connected to the Vineyard Library and hosts two collaboration rooms, a faculty development studio, a wireless techlab, and a large gathering space for students to hang out or have events.
Social Science faculty member Brenda Pennington said, “Our Cultural Engagement Center gives our Native students a sense of belonging, and is a positive and necessary support system for our Native students. As a result, the students feel comfortable in knowing there is a place on campus dedicated to their success. This is evident in their involvement with the Center and in their willingness to take advantage of the programs it offers. This in turn benefits them in the classroom in terms of meeting the expectations of assignment completion and in communicating with the instructors.”
Barbara Nickles, a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA) Coordinator, has seen first-hand the resources. Each spring, Nickles brought a team to the CEC, aiding students and others with their tax forms. Several language revitalization and artist’s exhibits were hosted throughout the life of the project in the CEC and in time, provided the avenue to create a community partnership between Hugh Pickens and NOC to install a 40’x 60’ mural painted by Osage artist, Yatika Fields.
Regarding the mural, Fields said, “the Mural will bring forth new imagination to students and help evolve cultural significance and relevance to the initiatives that are being developed by NASNTI. I have seen the long-term goals being met and made in the last three years I have been a part of NOC in programming, I look forward to seeing the program evolve and help both Native and non-Native be inspired to reach for the stars.”
Furthering support for the Native-American student population, a mentoring program was developed and each semester, 10 Native American, college experienced mentors from the community assisted up to 35 mentees each by coaching and sharing information that would promote success as well as encourage.
Choctaw mentor and artist Kristin Gentry “enjoyed working with students from the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations to help them stay on track for their tribal scholarship, semester enrollments and any help they needed with financial aid. I was also fortunate to have an art exhibition in the center for Native American students at NOC to attend. It was great getting to chat with them, show them my art, and share time together with some of my mentees.”
Native American Student Success Specialist, Gina Connewerdy will remain on staff at NOC as the CEC Director and Native American Liaison and will continue to provide mentoring services and is available to help Native American students from her office inside of the Cultural Engagement Center.
Overall, the five-year project has been greatly successful, and data supports that the Native American and low-income population the project targeted have seen increases in retention and degree attainment.
Dr. Pamela Stinson, Vice President of Academic Affairs is extremely pleased with the success of the project.
“Through the funding of the NASNTI grant, NOC has been able to strengthen processes and student support services in so many areas with benefit to the grant’s targeted population of Native American and low-income students but also the NOC population as a whole,” she said. “The renovation of the Cultural Engagement Center as a gathering place, the support for training and professional development on better serving diverse populations, and the development of a mentorship program for Native students, all of these initiatives have made NOC even stronger. Anna Roland, Project Director, and her staff, Gina Conneywerdy and Sara Hawkins, have all made a lasting mark through the work of the grant, and we are excited to continue to serve our students through the Cultural Engagement Center.”