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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 1, 2004 - Issue 112


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Non-traditional Students set Example

by David Melmer / Indian Country Today
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KYLE, S.D. - Zannita Fast Horse takes care of her daughter and husband, tutors and mentors students full time, and maintains a 3.8 point GPA. This is all after a terrifying return to college which is now a very pleasant and comfortable experience at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Fast Horse, a woman who has a dream and a goal that only higher education can help her fulfill, is a mother to 4-year-old Zannita, who has seizures and a husband who suffered brain and heart damage due to a stroke while in the military. But she still finds the time to study environmental sciences at OLC with the plan that one day she will work as a park ranger.

She now takes 20 credit hours a week and works an additional 20 to 40 hours as a mentor and tutor to other students while finding time for her husband and daughter.

It wasn’t easy at first. "The faculty at the college center encouraged me. Dr. Jones (speech instructor) gave me self-esteem.

"All the faculty are great. They make you feel comfortable. The students are nice and make you feel comfortable. I hadn’t been in school for 10 years," she said.

"People voluntarily help you with problems, it becomes a family."

Fast Horse’s day includes mentoring and tutoring other students while attending classes all day; picking up her daughter from Head Start and day care in the afternoon, preparing supper, attending to her daughter’s needs and after a full day and evening, it is time to study. That usually starts at around 9 p.m. when she can steal the necessary time.

Fast Horse and Corrine Zephier competed at a national gathering of the American Indian Higher Education Association in March and won second place in Duo Oral Interpretation. Fast Horse also took second place at the gathering in persuasive speech communication.

The two were honored with a special award for achievement by OLC staff and faculty for their work at AIHEC.

In addition to student of the year award, Fast Horse tied in vote numbers for president of the student congress and then lost by only one vote. The AIHEC Student Congress is an organization of 25,000 students that attend the more than 32 tribal colleges across the nation.

Fast Horse went into the military two years after high school and served for seven years. She enrolled at OLC after active duty and time spent as a reservist.

Corrine Zephier juggles a lot of tasks, yet maintains a positive attitude that rubs off on her children and fellow students. Although far from being a traditional student, her determination and will to improve through the learning process has made her a popular student who is regarded by the faculty and other students.

Zephier, a full-time employee of the postal service, is raising three children and holds down a full complement of classes with a 3.6 GPA. Zephier’s oldest son, 18, is about to head to college, her 12-year-old sixth grade twins will follow in their mother’s footsteps.

What makes Zephier run? She graduated from Little Wound High School and because of some family problems did not further her education. She had many starts and stops in her education, but always, family or other roadblocks showed up.

She said about every five years she started and then faded out. From 1978 - 1982 she worked as a teacher’s aide and from 1982 - 1985 the U.S. Army commanded her attention.

It wasn’t until 1999 that she returned to the classroom and she hasn’t stopped since. She got her jump start with a Bill and Linda Gates Foundation scholarship. She was nominated by many of her instructors for the scholarship, which is awarded to full-time students with children that have a high GPA.

At the time she had a 4.0 GPA, but with the now full-time job at the post office and the three children, she said is has taken a toll on her grades, down to a 3.6 GPA, a more than acceptable grade for most students.

"I want to be a roll model for my children and let them know you are never too old to learn. They give me encouragement."

Zephier is studying for possibly three degrees; entrepreneurship, computers and office technology. She takes her education a year at a time and will not be pinned down on a possible graduation date. She speaks like a contented professional student, who "enjoys school."

"I go to school for the socialization. I’ve made friends in all age groups. My kids encourage me even though they are busy. Sometimes I miss their school activities. I tell them to be honest [about my school] and they tell me, good job."

Why should someone who has a solid career with the federal postal service push herself? "Education is a pathway to daily skills, to life skills; an education is needed," Zephier said.

Oglala Lakota College has 10 centers and the majority of students attend classes at the centers. Distance learning is also possible at OLC.

OLC is one of the first tribal colleges among the 32 tribal colleges in the country. Oglala Lakota College began as an education center in 1971 and used the accreditation of the state’s colleges and universities. The first associate’s degree was graduated in 1974 and the school became Oglala Sioux Community College in 1978. In 1983 it received its own accreditation from the North Central Accreditation Association and it now offers four-year degree programs as well as graduate degrees in education.

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