of Mines' ceremony celebrates expanding multi-cultural alumni ranks.
eagle plume hung from Myrna Littlewolf's braids Friday as friends
and family gathered to honor the young Native American woman's accomplishments
in earning an industrial engineering degree today during the 159th
commencement at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
feathering ceremony honored Littlewolf and Quana Higgins, an Oglala
Lakota civil engineering student and the only other Native American
to graduate from Mines today.
Wiley, director of Mines' Office of Multicultural Affairs, said
the ceremony also played a small part in helping accomplish OMA's
mission -- which is the recruitment, retention and graduation of
more Native American students like Littlewolf and Higgins.
people to the feathering ceremony, Mines President Robert Wharton
said an eagle feather is given to "acknowledge the great heights
to which the person has flown." Minority students give the
Rapid City campus "a broader global lens," Wharton said.
Given its enrollment of foreign students, Mines is one of the most
racially diverse places in Rapid City. About 12 percent of the school's
student body is made up of people of color when students who are
citizens of other countries are included in the tally, Wiley said.
That number drops to 6 percent, however, when only minorities who
are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents are counted.
the beginning of the 2008-09 school year, Mines enrolled 97 students
who self-identified as minorities: 40 were Native Americans; 20
Hispanics; 21 Asians; 11 blacks and several of other races.
Mines, like all science and engineering schools, faces many obstacles
in increasing the number of Native Americans who enroll there. Only
2 percent of Mines' student body is Native American, even though
Natives make up about 12 percent of the area's population, according
to the U.S. Census. Even fewer make it to graduation day.
American students "are dramatically underrepresented on our
campus, but we are taking dramatic steps to try to improve that,"
said Carter Kerk, a professor in the industrial engineering department.
Kerk has been instrumental in developing the Tiospaye in Engineering
scholarships -- 15 four-year, $8,000 annual scholarships for Native
students that are funded through a five-year grant from the National
school has an active chapter of American Indian Science and Engineering
Students, as well as other programs that do outreach to Native elementary
and high school students.
OMA also hosts multicultural activities, including Friday's feathering
ceremony, in an attempt to accomplish Mines' mission to "achieve
and maintain national prominence for the recruitment, retention
and graduation of American Indians seeking mathematics, science
and engineering at the graduate and undergraduate levels while respecting
an ambitious goal, Wiley knows.
already does a better job of attracting Native Americans than the
science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields as a whole
do, he said.
Native Americans constitute less than one-half of 1 percent of workers
in those areas.
Americans are far underrepresented in the STEM fields, so we want
to do all we can to help level the playing field in those areas,"
Wiley said. "Science and engineering has been a field that
minorities haven't ventured into as much. We, and a lot of other
schools, are trying to change that picture."
two-fold approach involves student support and academic support.
Mentors advocate by creating peer groups and solving personal problems
to increase retention rates. Academic support is built into the
curriculum in the form of collaborative learning environments that
find tutors, mentors and study skills for students who need them.
a student comes to campus and doesn't get tied into student groups
or mentors, then it can become bewildering ... to manage all the
demands," Wiley said.
Higgins and Myrna Littlewolf took advantage of those support systems
to make it to graduation day, Wiley said.
smart students who could handle the rigorous academics," he
said, "but they've drawn upon the support systems that were
available to them here, and they worked hard to take advantage of
Hills State University celebrated its 25th Feast and Feathers celebration
April 30 to honor Native American graduates as well as graduates
in its American Indian Studies program. BHSU holds its commencement
the fall of 2008, there were 158 Native Americans enrolled at Black
Hills State University, which typically leads the South Dakota university
system in minority student enrollments, according to Jace DeCory
of the Center for American Indian Studies at BHSU. During the 2008-09
school year, Native students constituted about 4 percent of the