Northwest Indian College to grant 1st 4-year bachelor’s degrees

By John Stark
Lummi Reservation, Washington (AP) 2-09

Northwest Indian College will grant its first four-year bachelor’s degrees this spring, a milestone in the college’s evolution into a four-year institution after more than 25 years as a two-year school.

Those first degrees will be in native environmental sciences, and the graduates will have expertise that combines traditional Native American knowledge of the natural world with conventional environmental science.

Jessica Urbanec, a Lummi, expects to be one of those graduates.

“We incorporate our cultural beliefs with all the science,” Urbanec said. “We have a direct link to the land because we have been here for generations.”

Urbanec is also glad that the college offers students the opportunity to put their knowledge to work. On the day she was interviewed, she and other students had been uprooting nonnative blackberry bushes.

“We go out into the community and practice that which we learn in the classroom,” Urbanec said. “The environment is everybody. It’s not strictly tribal.”

Northwest Indian College descends from the Lummi Indian School of Aquaculture, which began in 1973 to provide training in salmon and shellfish-rearing techniques. In 1983, the Lummi Indian Business Council moved to create a more comprehensive program, and the aquaculture school became Lummi Community College.

By 1989, because the college was attracting tribal youth from around the region, it was given its present name. More recently, an ambitious fundraising campaign has enabled the college to add new buildings to complement the modular buildings clustered around the library, built in 1931 as the Lummi Day School near the eastern end of Kwina Road.

Recent additions include a 67-student dormitory, a classroom building and an early learning center that provides child care.

Students and faculty are excited about the new facilities.

“We will have classrooms that we can actually do chemistry experiments in,” said Wayne Woods, speech and theater instructor. “The extra things that make a college a college, having dorms and evening activities, theater and things like that, are helping our campus life.”

Gary Brandt, technology and robotics instructor, is looking forward to expanding the college’s technology offerings.

“This is an amazing place to work,” Brandt said.

 

The college also expects to break ground this year on a $3.7 million Center for Student Success, an office building that will bring together student services now spread around the smaller existing buildings. Also in the works is a $1.6 million natural resources lab to serve the environmental science program.

But the main campus serves only about a quarter of the approximately 1,100 students getting an education through the college. The rest attend classes via Webcam facilities at six other reservation locations in the Northwest. Students from about 100 tribes are enrolled, although about 20 percent of the student body is non-Indian.

To pay for its building program, the college has raised $30 million for its capital campaign, including contributions from the Lummi Indian Business Council as well as other tribes. In January, California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians donated $2.5 million to the fund. Other major donors include Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, Trillium Corp., the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

Lisa Santana, director of development, said the college hopes to raise an additional $10.2 million in the next few years, despite the tough economic times.

“One of the things we have been promoting is that the contribution they are making into education is really an investment,” Santana said.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the college since 2002, said she expects to have more four-year-degree programs up and running in the next five years: human services, business, teacher education and Native American studies are strong possibilities.

In the past, Native American colleges usually have tried to follow the same pattern as non-Indian schools, Crazy Bull said. Northwest Indian College emphasizes Indian identity, without shortchanging the conventional curriculum.

“It puts Northwest Indian College sort of on the cutting edge of Native American college education,” she said. “Part of our work is to translate our traditional knowledge into our contemporary environment.”

 

 

 

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