Colleges and High Schools busy graduating students

Graduating from a tribal college: Shaping the futures of our reservation communities
By Kate Lechnir
Special to News From Indian Country June 2012
38 students graduated from the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College in Hayward Wisconsin on May 17th. Students graduated from four Native American reservation community campuses in Hayward, St. Croix, Lac Du Flambeau and “LCO North,” serving the Red Cliff and Bad River reservation communities.
One might say that the number of graduates was low this year, considering that historically LCOOCC graduates more than 60, sometimes upwards of 100 students each year. And yet the majority of these graduates, 32 students are first generation Native American college students who will be returning to their reservation communities to shape the futures of tribal public policies, tribal administration and government, health care, language and culture programs and tribal business concerns. In this sense, the numbers are huge.
Karen Washington, the St. Croix Education and Youth Director stated, “Students can learn to both practice their traditional customs and values and gain the knowledge they need to be productive in the bigger society.  A tribal college supports these efforts.”
Ralph and Delores Pewaush head the Native American Studies Department at the college’s St. Croix Outreach Site.  “We are so proud of all the graduates,” they noted.  “We are always happy to see all of the Indian people graduating from college to improve their communities and themselves.  That’s what attending a tribal college is all about.”
The Pewaushs have taught many of their classes, including Ojibwemowin, over the college’s extensive new ITV (Interactive Television) system. “I broadcasted my classes from the St. Croix reservation  to the main campus in Hayward, to Lac Du Flambeau, and to students from Red Cliff and Bad River. They were good students, willing to learn the Ojibwe.”  
With the latest advances in Interactive Television technology, oftentimes students from all four campuses were participating in the same classes at the same time. New technologies in distance instruction have formed closer ties among the neighboring reservation communities. Sharing of expert instruction, student interface, and the ability to offer more classes at more sites has added a new dimension of tribal diversity to the college’s main campus in Hayward.
“Attending a tribal college was a real learning experience,” said Melissa Aberg. Aberg graduated with an Associate of Science degree in Business Administration with an Accounting emphasis. “I learned to build relationships on a multi-cultural basis.  I learned to acknowledge diversity by being more open, appreciative and accepting of many different people from many different tribes.” Aberg remembers her first semester at the LCOOCC—St. Croix Outreach Site.  “My first semester here was inspirational.  It felt good to know I was finally on the right path in life. It’s like when you work as a bartender and you think, ‘Geez, I might be doing this for the rest of my life!’ And then all of a sudden your life falls into place.” Aberg added, “School provides you with the means, but you have to put in the work.  After it’s all said and done, it’s such a rewarding feeling to be graduating.”
Aberg was honored to be on the Dean’s List each semester in college.  The Dean’s List is for students who have achieved academic excellence. Linda Arndt, a full time faculty business teacher from the main campus was Aberg’s favorite teacher. “Linda was the perfect teacher.  She was nice, unbiased, knowledgeable and professional at the same time.  I remember saying to her one day, ‘You know so much about accounting – you could be making $500,000 a year. Why are you teaching? She replied that sometimes there are things in life more important.’”
Aberg talked about what her degree in accounting will prepare her for in the future. “It’s not like the degree prepares you 100 percent to be in a management position.  This is an Associates degree.  It has provided me with the basic tools I need to further my education and to start out at an entry level management position.  And that’s my current goal. I see myself using my degree to further assist me in achieving my life goals and dreams, like building my own house and possibly starting my own family.”
Aberg concluded by saying, “I feel that the quality of education I received at LCOOCC was very good, and an excellent way to prepare students for working in the tribal community.”
Anne Tomaszewski also received her Associate of Science degree in Business Administration with an Accounting emphasis. “I believe education is important, and in today’s society it is a ticket to advance professionally.  It is important to set an example for the youth to follow. I am setting an example for my nine year old grandson.”  Tomaszewski stated that the language classes that she took at LCOOCC-St. Croix Outreach Site were her favorite classes. “While I am not a fluent speaker, it is our language that makes us a people. I understand the language a lot better now. It makes me feel good to have an understanding of what is being said, rather than sitting there wondering what is being said.”
Tomaszewski offers the following advice to people who are thinking about going to college. “Just to get started, I encourage people I know to take one or two classes at a time. Begin with the basics until you figure out what you want to do. LCOOCC is a great place to get started. It’s local, and you have the advantage of living at home so it’s cheaper.  There are smaller classes so there is more interaction with teachers.” Tomaszewski continued, “This degree will give me more of the big picture as I go on with future plans.  As I progress through my “to do” list of accomplishments, I know that what I have learned will be of benefit. It is an accomplishment that I put off way too long. Tomaszewski ended by saying, “I enjoyed my time with the teachers and other students at the LCOOCC-St Croix Outreach Site. I greatly appreciate Kate and Dale being there for supporting me through this journey.”
Laura M. Moose received her Associate of Applied Science degree in Casino Operations Management. “As a business professional working for the St. Croix tribe since I was 14 years old, I took the Casino Operations Management program to gain insight into actual casino operations without having to work in the casinos. I learned about all of the games, the percentages, and the financial underpinnings behind the casinos,” noted Moose. “I learned about food and beverage management, casino security, a lot of detailed information about the hospitality industry. The instructor, Dale Hegstrom, has a great wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor.
“I recommend going to college right after high school,” advised Moose. “I always wanted to go to college but I had a life changing event that delayed my college plans until the LCOOCC was established here in Hertel. It was a convenience as well as affordable to finish college, raise my family and work. I miss my first advisor and dear friend, Ann Marie Penzkover.”
“I see a lot of kids who understand how important education is. They finish their high school credits at the St. Croix Youth Center, travel up to the LCOOCC main campus to do their GED and HSED testing,  and then enroll in the college, noted Moose. “I would like to thank the St. Croix Tribal Council and the LCO college for allowing me to continue my education at the St. Croix Outreach Site.”
Karen Washington added, “I am so proud of what these graduates have accomplished.”
Ralph and Delores Pewaush reminded students, “If you decide to go someplace else to live and work, don’t forget where you came from and continue your Indian ceremonies and live the Indian way of life.”