HANOVER, N.H. - When Dartmouth College officials selected Raelee Conrad, a senior at the Cherokee Nation's Sequoyah Schools, for its annual Native Fly-In program, they reviewed not only her grades, but all elements of her life as a student.
The program brings talented Native high school students from all over the country for a three-day visit to Dartmouth and a mini-experience of what life as a full-time student on the campus of the New England Ivy League college would be like. The program also provides the college with a chance to recruit some of the country's top Native achievers.
''It's pretty competitive,'' program coordinator Cheryl Sprang told Indian Country Today. ''There were a lot of applicants this year. When choosing who gets to come, we look the student as a whole - their grades, their volunteer work, everything they have done while in high school.''
In Conrad's case, there was a lot to look at. Conrad, 17, is an active member of the Sequoyah Schools' American Indian Science and Engineering Society chapter, 4-H and student council, while she is concurrently enrolled in college classes at Northeastern State University and maintains a 4.24 grade point average. She will graduate from Sequoyah with a total of 24 college credits already under her belt.
The fly-in program covers the complete cost of air fare, campus meals and accommodation for the students' four-day, three-night stay.
During the visit, students gain a firsthand experience of the college's academic resources, student services, and admission and financial aid criteria through meetings with the college's Native community and other students, faculty sessions, academic presentations and social events.
Applications this year were due by Sept. 7 and selections were made the week of Sept. 17. Of the 205 students who applied this year, 39 were selected to participate, Sprang said. The program took place Oct. 14 - 17.
Conrad said she was ''so excited'' when she learned she was accepted for the program. ''I opened my e-mail and saw it and went and told my mom, because she works at my high school. I was so happy.''
Conrad's school - the Sequoyah Schools - is a boarding school for Native students near Tahlequah, Okla. Conrad's participation in the program marked her first trip to the Northeast.
''I really, really, really liked Dartmouth. It was just great there. It was kind of cold, but it wasn't too big. ... It's one of the better schools and there are a lot of opportunities there that other schools don't have,'' Conrad said.
The visit convinced Conrad to apply to Dartmouth. Her application is completed and just needs to be mailed, she said.
Participation in the program doesn't guarantee acceptance at the college, but she said ''they told us it gave us a bit of an edge.''
Sprang confirmed that a high percentage of the students who participate in the Fly-In program apply to the college and are accepted. ''Once they come and visit us, they're generally pretty excited about Dartmouth.''
If accepted, Conrad plans to enter the college's pre-med program.
One of the most attractive elements of the college is the Native community, Conrad said.
''I really got a sense of the Native community there, which is something that's really important to me,'' she said. ''We got to stay at the Native American Association house and visit with them. We had a dinner with the whole Native American community and got to ask about AISES and other clubs they have on campus. That they have an AISES chapter is one of the important things for me. I've been in AISES for four years in high school and I want to continue in that.''
Students must be in their senior year of high school to apply for the Native Fly-In program. Other basic requirements are a strong connection to or with an American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian tribe, nation or community; a high school transcript with good grades; and a sincere interest in applying to Dartmouth College.
Last year, the college started a summer fly-in program for a smaller number of potential students. Around 15 students attended the program last summer, Sprang said.
The criteria are the same for both fall and summer programs. Students must complete an application form, available on the college's Web site at www.dartmouth.edu/~nap/flyin, and they must submit a one- to two-page essay on a topic posed by the college.
The program has been in place for more than a dozen years and is part of Dartmouth College's commitment to Native American studies. The 18th century Mohegan preacher Samson Occom raised funds for the college in Britain. King George III issued the grant for the college in 1769, which stated, in part, that the purpose of the institution was ''for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in the Land in reading, writing & all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient.''
That mission fell by the wayside, however, as only 99 Native students attended the college over almost the next 200 years.
Dartmouth committed to its original mission in 1970 when the college's 13th president, John G. Kemeny, promised to enroll a ''significantly greater'' number of Indian students than at any time since the college's founding. Since then, the college has graduated more than 500 Native students.
Dartmouth began a Native American Program in 1970, which offers both a major and a minor in the discipline.