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Indian country’s future CFOs attend new business program

HANOVER, N.H. – A group of Indian country’s highest achieving high school seniors spent a week during the summer immersed in a special program aimed at encouraging them to pursue careers in finance and provide the financial leadership to help their nations’ economies move forward.

The Tuck School of Business hosted the 12th annual session of LEAD – the Leadership Education and Development program for high school minorities at the Dartmouth College campus. LEAD is an initiative developed to introduce minority students to business. The program usually involves 30 to 35 mostly African American and Hispanic students, but this year’s LEAD included a new initiative – a week-long session geared to Native American students.

Thirteen Native high school seniors attended the first of its kind program sponsored by the Native American Finance Officers Association.

NAFOA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to improve the quality of financial and business management of tribal governments, their entities and their businesses,” according to its Web site.

The Native American Finance Officers Association sponsored 13 Native American high school seniors’ participation in the Leadership Education and Development initiative at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College last summer. Pictured are NAFOA students Sonia Hoffman, Tyler Holyan and Christopher Laughlin as they received awards at the closing dinner.

NAFOA Deputy Executive Director Tashina Etter was involved in creating and implementing the program.

“We’d heard from tribal leaders across the country that they really want more Native students to go into fields like finance and financial management and eventually return to the tribes with the skills to provide the financial leadership necessary to move tribal businesses forward. Because of that, we decided to launch an educational program that would allow younger Native youth to have exposure to business practices and principles at an earlier age.”

Etter forged partnerships with LEAD and Tuck and gathered support for the program. She also created and designed the curriculum and invited a roster of speakers to make presentations, including representatives from Tuck, the Interior Department, the Chumash Nation, and the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

The program also dovetails with Dartmouth College’s original mission, said Christie St. John, senior associate director of recruiting and enrollment at Tuck.

“Dartmouth College was originally founded in 1769, by Ebenezer Wheelock from a charter from King George III. The charter created a college ‘for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land. ... and also of English Youth and any others.’ So we have a long history of working with Native American students, and there are lots of resources on the campus which we called on to help with the launching of this new program, such as professors in the Native American Program, the students in the Native American House, and the Dartmouth Office of Diversity and Pluralism. We are very proud of having hosted the very first program of this kind and are looking forward to a long relationship with NAFOA and other groups. We are also very proud of having the largest Native American class entering as freshmen this year – over 67.”

The students represented a number of tribes and were selected by NAFOA after meeting some fairly rigorous standards that included test scores, grade point averages, records of leadership in community activities, and recommendations from academic and community sources.

Dominique Perkins, Piscataway, was typical of this group of super achieving Native youth. She is a senior at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., an avid volunteer and leader, and currently holds various positions within her school and community. She also writes for her school publication and is active in the theater. She was a volunteer in President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

“The NAFOA program has been such a wonderful experience for a myriad of reasons, in particular, its ability to expose me to an entirely new lifestyle and perspective that I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to view and understand. Coming from a suburban area and a small, state-recognized tribe that does not exist on a reservation I had no idea the struggles and triumphs Native Americans were experiencing all over our country. I have always been an avid supporter of being a self-advocate and this program has taught me how to achieve this goal within Indian country through economic and leadership development.”

Perkins' comments affirm NAFOA’s goal.

“The goal was to help students make the connection between the financial world and tribal nations,” Etter said. “We wanted to reach Native students who are already college-bound, who are at the top of their class, that we could nurture and support over a period of time and connect them with some of our internship opportunities with some of our corporate sponsors as well as our scholarship program. We want to keep track of these students over time and keep them within the finance family,” Etter said.

When the one-week Native business immersion program ended, the students participated in the remaining three-week LEAD program.

“The Native students met other students of diverse backgrounds and they learned more about business and finance relevant to the global community, but they were able to draw upon the lessons they learned in our Native program. We were pleased to have the support of our partners, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the LEAD program to launch this unique program. We couldn’t have done it without them,” Etter said.

The experience was rewarding for the organizers too.

“For me, (the best part) was meeting the students and seeing them become aware of their heritage. Surprisingly, many did not know about tribal sovereignty, and the history of good and bad relations between tribes and the government. And it was most interesting to hear their ideas for their projects and to watch them grow,” St. John said.

And the program will continue next year.

“We hope that it will encourage more Native students to go into business rather than other areas in order to help their tribes thrive and survive in the economy,” she said. “We also hope that many of these students will decide to come to Tuck for their MBA.”