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College Horizons Prepares Graduate School Students

ALBURQUERQUE, N.M. - Native American students applying to graduate school
encounter a web of information and a maze of process.

A junior at Harvard University with an eye for graduate school in forensic
science, Christina Fields said she had more resources and fewer questions
when she searched for an undergraduate institution. This July she hopes to
get some answers at a four day graduate school prep program for American
Indians.

"It seems like grad schools expect that you know what to expect," said
Fields, 21, a member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. "What's
scheduling like? How much time do you spend on research? It's really hard
to get someone to explain these things."

The program, College Horizons, has taught highly qualified Indian students
the inside scoop on undergraduate admission for five years. Administrators
now hope to duplicate the program's success at the graduate level, July 17
- 20 at Washington University in St. Louis.

"There's a real need," said Whitney Laughlin, who holds a doctorate in
Educational Administration and who founded and directs the programs.
"People need to understand that applying to grad school is as personal, if
not more personal, a process as applying to undergraduate school."

Sixty students from tribes around the nation will attend the program to
learn the nitty-gritty of graduate school admission. They will meet
representatives of 27 universities including Harvard, Cornell, Princeton,
Stanford and U.C. Berkeley and learn about programs ranging from law and
medicine to business and mass-communications.

Although the focus of the conference is on helping students, schools that
attend are almost certainly looking to create diverse campus communities
and strengthen their own academic programs.

Michael Burke, Associate Director of Admissions at Harvard University's
John F. Kennedy School of Government, said diversity is especially
important to the school's mission.

"We want to expose Native Americans to the opportunities here at the
Kennedy school," Burke said. "A lot of what we do at the school has direct
application to Indian country in terms of sovereignty and economic
development."

On the road to self determination, tribal members with advanced degrees are
especially important to Native communities. Students, however, are often
forced into debt and costs vary significantly from discipline to discipline
and institution to institution.

Groups like Albuquerque-based American Indian Graduate Center, a co-sponsor
of the College Horizons programs, funds Native American graduate students
but the aid is often dwarfed by tuition rates.

"It's not what it used to be," said Norbert Hill, executive director of the
center. "Students are not getting out with fewer loans."

"[Universities] have diversity goals but we want to make sure the schools
are supporting Indian students. You just can't enroll students and hope
that they graduate. You have to do something in between."

Universities attending the program are likely to offer aid packages that
make graduate studies true possibilities for Native American students.

Washington University for example, host site of the College Horizons
graduate program, offers a $66,000 scholarship that covers tuition, books
and living expenses for Native American students pursuing a masters degree
in Social Work.

"We've put our money where our mouth is," said Eddie Brown, director of the
Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at the university. "The
message we want to send is that Washington University is interested in grad
work for American Indians."

College Horizon's success - in five years of operation 98 percent of
students who attended the undergraduate program have gone on to four-year
colleges - is due to the guidance students receive on standardized test
preparation, critiques of required personal statements, and invaluable
financial aid and scholarship information.

Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, the
outreach branch of the test prep organization by the same name, will give
an overview at the conference of the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and GMAT -
standardized tests common to graduate and professional school admissions.

"Some people say the tricks are in preparation for the tests," said Rosner.
"I say the tricks are in the tests. Native Americans, at the front end of
this process, need good info about these tests."

Fields, a Gates Millennium Scholar, said she looks forward to networking
with other students at the conference.

"I know that they are all going to be active people," Fields said. "I'm
sure they're ambitious and I'm sure I'll learn from their undergraduate
experiences."

College Horizons graduate program is currently accepting applications. For
more information or to apply, visit www.whitneylaughlin.com.