Skip to main content

Investing in future leaders

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Higher education leadership institute

With many founding leaders of the nation's tribal colleges and universities
reaching retirement age, higher education officials want to ensure there's
a new crop of qualified administrators to fill their shoes.

A key component in the effort to recruit and train new senior-level
executives for the country's over 30 accredited tribal colleges and
universities is the Virginia-based American Indian Higher Education
Consortium's (AIHEC) Leadership Institute, which just completed its
inaugural year.

The 2003 - 2004 Institute included six sessions focusing on the history and
purpose of minority-serving institutions, financial management and
fundraising, tribal sovereignty, cultural issues, academic achievement, and
governing boards and program development. Nine fellows from across the
country "graduated" from the program in late July.

The participants teamed up with current school presidents and other top
administrators who served as mentors. The group also traveled to Mexico to
learn about global higher education systems and to examine accessibility
issues for that country's large indigenous population. Other seminars took
place at two tribal colleges, a historically African-American college and a
Hispanic institution.

The Institute is funded through part of a broader, first-of-its-kind
program - the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education - with a four-year,
$6 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek,
Mich. The Alliance includes the National Association for Equal Opportunity
in Higher Education, which represents the country's historically black
colleges and universities, and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and

The Alliance is a component of the W.K. Kellogg Minority Serving
Institution Leadership Fellows program. The program's goal is to have 30
fellows annually - 10 from each of the three minority education
organizations - complete the year-long training sessions. The fellows are
deans, professors, administrators, vice presidents and others seeking to
expand their skills and broaden their professional horizons.

"I'm at a point in my professional development that I thought I could
benefit from learning more about leadership positions," said Venida
Chenault, Kickapoo and Prairie Band of Potawatomi, professor of Native
American studies at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. "It
was the next, natural stage. It's been just a really positive experience. I
had the opportunity to develop very good friendships and professional
relationships, and I think that in the long run that's going to be very
beneficial for our school. I developed a larger network [through the leaders of other, non-tribal schools]. We all have a shared agenda. We're
all fighting some of the same battles."

Phil Baird, Rosebud Lakota, dean of vocational and academic programs at
United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., was involved in a
similar effort to train new tribal education leaders in 1990, but that
program did not include the African-American and Hispanic schools.

"What made this especially powerful is that we had all three groups," he
said. "We now have this very powerful network. It also creates unity and
respect for all the different cultures. It bonds us."

Baird, who served as the first presidentelect of the National Indian
Education Association, said he's convinced that tribal colleges and
universities open new doors and give students life choices.

"I also think tribal colleges have shown that education is about freedom,"
he explained. "Education gives people a choice where they haven't had
choices before. Tribal colleges help our Native people walk in two worlds.
They also show that education is a life-long learning process."

"I think the population we serve is very different from the mainstream,"
added Maggie Necefer, Navajo, vice president for academic and student
programs at Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz. "What education was supposed to
be for Indian people was defined for us at first. But now tribes have a lot
more control over that. We want to teach about our language, culture and
history. In that way it's different. It's about building community and our

"Indian nations, tribal colleges and universities, and AIHEC recognize that
effective leadership is essential to achieve our vision for Indian country,
and we view the tribal colleges as a viable mechanism to achieve their goal
of reestablishing themselves as healthy, viable communities and thus,
healthy nations," AIHEC Executive Director Gerald Gipp said when the
Institute was launched last year. "Healthy in terms of developing a
well-educated citizenry, revitalizing the business and economic
environments on and near the Indian reservations, and regaining physical,
mental, and spiritual health of each and every tribal member."

AIHEC was founded in 1972 by the presidents of the first six tribal
colleges. The nonprofit group serves approximately 30,000 full-time and
part-time students from more than 250 federally recognized tribes.

The Institute's recently named 2004 - 2005 fellows are:

Roxann Bighorn, director of the Career Ladder teacher-training program at
Fort Peck Community College in Poplar, Mont.

Haven Gourneau, financial director at Fort Peck Community College.

Teresa Dorsett, student support services coordinator at Southwestern Indian
Polytechnic Institute, Albuquerque, N.M.

Olivia Vanegas-Funcheon, vice president of administrative services at
Tohono O'odham Community College in Sells, Ariz.

Elmer Guy, vice president of academic and student services, Crownpoint
Institute of Technology, Crownpoint, N.M.

Ron LaDue, development officer at Blackfeet Community College in Browning,

Douglas Jay Lohnes, agriculture and natural resources instructor at
Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, N.D.

David Oreiro, vice president of the Center for Tribal Prosperity at
Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash.

Carmen Taylor, executive director of the National Indian School Board
Association, Poison, Mont.

Chad Waukechon, interim director of education, outreach and extension
services, College of Menominee Nation.