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Education: Collaborations flourish between MSU, Tribal Colleges

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BOZEMAN. Mont. - Life, whether we acknowledge it or not, is interdependent, Henrietta Mann tells her students at Montana State University-Bozeman. "We know what we breathe out, the trees take in. What the trees breathe out, we as people take in," said the holder of the Endowed Chair in Native American Studies.

In the same way, MSU contributes to the well being of Montana's tribal colleges, and the tribal colleges enrich the university, say MSU officials and directors of its Native American programs. MSU has approximately 30 Native American programs, and many of those link MSU and Montana's tribal colleges. Leaders say they not only help the institutions fulfill their land grant missions, but they offer cultural and financial benefits to all.

"I think it's great," MSU President Geoffrey Gamble commented. "In fact, I would like to see more interactions and partnerships."

"This collaboration has actually made it a reality to be able to provide outreach to the whole state and not leave out a very large segment of our state," said Sara Young.

Young is director of the American Indian Research Opportunities (AIRO) program at MSU and a Crow Indian who commutes to Bozeman from her home at Lame Deer.

Wayne Stein added, "It's good for us that we are actually fulfilling our mission, our purpose for being here."

Stein is director of Native American Studies at MSU. He is enrolled as a Turtle Mountain Chippewa in North Dakota and grew up on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.

AIRO is just one program that weaves together MSU-Bozeman and Montana's tribal colleges. A formal consortium, it was started to address the serious under-representation of American Indians in biomedical/health sciences. It has since expanded to increase opportunities in all areas of science, mathematics, engineering and technology.

Most of the American Indian programs at MSU-Bozeman come through AIRO or the Office of Tribal Service, Stein added. The Office of Tribal Service is the only such office in the nation and works primarily with the seven tribal colleges in Montana. It has also facilitated many of the partnerships MSU has with tribal colleges and universities in other states. Besides acting as a liaison between American Indian communities and MSU-Bozeman, the office recruits students who want to continue their education past tribal college. It provides information to students and serves as a meeting place for American Indian students who attend MSU.

A sampling of other collaborative programs includes the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN), Bridges to Baccalaureate, the Center for Learning and Teaching in the West and the Extension Service. The Technology Opportunity Program is aimed at cultural and language preservation. Some of the programs involve long-distance learning. At least one focuses on developing community involvement. Some programs encourage students as young as middle school to become interested in medical careers or research.