Amans give $300,000 to bolster S.D. college business courses

VERMILLION, S.D. ? The University of South Dakota and Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, N.D., are working together to provide a college curriculum on entrepreneurship for Indian students, with the aim of expanding economic development on the reservation.

The University of South Dakota-Sitting Bull College Entrepreneurship Partnership, established last November, was made possible by a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Tom and Danielle Aman Foundation of Aberdeen, S.D., which was established by Tom Aman, a 1957 graduate of USD, and his wife, Danielle Ross Aman.

Although non-Indian, Mr. Aman was born on the Standing Rock Reservation and grew up there and across the Missouri River in Mobridge. Aman began his career in a half-time job as manager of the Mobridge Chamber of Commerce. Under his guidance as founder, president and CEO, Aberdeen-based Aman Collection Services Inc. grew to over 400 employees before the company was sold to Wells Fargo in the late 1980s. Aman and his wife currently head Tom and Danielle Aman Enterprises, which offers business consulting and venture capital services, said Heidi Kramer, the foundation's director.

The partnership means to help American Indians start businesses and make them grow. It will support development and enhancement of the College's current entrepreneurship curriculum. The partners hope the new curriculum will stimulate business creation compatible with and supportive of American Indian culture.

"The University of South Dakota is proud to partner with Sitting Bull College in this entrepreneurial program," said James W. Abbott, President of USD, in a news release. "It's an innovative, cross-cultural opportunity utilizing the strengths of both institutions. It is an honor to be chosen as one of the two host institutions to implement such a visionary program; we are humbled by Tom and Danielle Aman's extraordinary gesture. With alumni such as Tom Aman, USD will continue to 'set the standard' in South Dakota and move toward our ultimate goal of becoming one of the best small, public universities in our country."

"This partnership will assist SBC in making further strides in meeting the college's mission of expanding economic development of the Standing Rock Nation," said Sitting Bull College President Ron McNeil.

"The partnership will help to enhance the current two-year entrepreneurship curriculum that the College offers and will also assist the Tribal Business Information Center at SBC with clients interested in starting a business," added Koreen Ressler, SBC's Dean of Academic Affairs.

Noting his ties to the region, Aman said his family "developed an appreciation for the concerns of its largely impoverished, yet proud citizens." He believes that "their incalculable social problems are surely a result of their lack of a basic, sustaining economy."

"Historically, the Hunkpapa maintained their strong economy based on hunting, mainly buffalo, elk, beaver and deer," Aman said in a prepared statement. "Our nation's founding fathers were eager for their trade. What of this economy exists today? We believe only through creative thinking and entrepreneurial activity can it be replaced."

The University of South Dakota Foundation manages the grant. The Business Research Bureau (BRB) at the USD School of Business provides administrative support.

Members of the USD business school faculty involved in the program are: Robert Tosterud, professor of business and Freeman Chair of Entrepreneurial Studies; Robert Reinke, professor of economics; and Stephen Tracy, BRB director. Clint Waara, coordinator of the partnership, is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; he joined the faculty in September 2001. "Economic development is the issue, and that's the goal of the grant ? to accomplish economic development through job creation on reservations, which has historically been a difficult task," said Waara. "In order to accomplish our primary goal of developing a four-year, culturally relevant entrepreneurial program at Sitting Bull College, we will assist SBC with gaining four-year baccalaureate accreditation by the Higher Education Committee of the North Central Accreditation Committee."

"Our ultimate objective is to make SBC the 'center of the universe' for Native American collegiate entrepreneurship programs," said Tosterud. "Perhaps the best economic development method or strategy is for Native Americans to start and grow their own businesses based on their own experiences and culture, as opposed to borrowing a cookie cutter strategy from corporate America. What's unique about the program is that it will be designed by, supportive of and complementary to the Lakota culture. I believe that the Lakota culture will be a strength in the creation of new businesses."

According to Tosterud, 40 percent of all new jobs in South Dakota are with start-up businesses. Entrepreneurship education, particularly college level coursework, has been demonstrated to be key in influencing the quantity, quality and successfulness of small-business start-ups. The partnership will operate with year-by-year outreach, teaching/learning and research objectives in mind. The SBC curriculum will emphasize the art and science of business creation within the Native American culture.

"Once the curriculum has been developed, it is our goal that it will be offered by SBC, first as an enhancement to what is already being taught, and later as a full four-year degree" Aman said.