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Purdue program to recruit, retain Native students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A program in Purdue University's Graduate School
will help give American Indian students a home away from home while they
continue their education.

Through a cooperative agreement with a mentoring program at Northern
Arizona University, the Native American Cohort at Purdue program, nicknamed
the Tecumseh Project, will offer support to American Indian graduate
students in ways that have never been formally available before.

"There are cultural differences that are reflected in body language,
mannerisms and eye contact that both the students and faculty need to be
aware of for Native American students to transition smoothly to academic
life," said Aleeah Livengood of Mulberry, Ind., an American Indian who will
receive a master's degree in special education next semester.

"We have a deep affiliation with community and family that makes it
difficult for us to leave them and go to college. Also, because college
educations usually require one to leave that environment, it has never been
a priority within that community structure. However, the acquisition of an
education is the only way that we can improve our lives, the lives of our
children and our people."

Livengood, who is Cherokee, Oneida and Seneca and whose adopted parents are
Navajo, has family in Arizona but grew up in the Lafayette area. She is
helping the Tecumseh Project get started by being a part of the core group
and mentoring other American Indian students.

The program was put together as a result of a meeting among Kerry Rabenold,
professor of biological sciences, and two professors at Northern Arizona
University who run an undergraduate research program.

"This project has kindled enthusiasm throughout Purdue," said John
Contreni, dean of the graduate school. "Purdue is among the top five in the
nation as a producer of doctorates from underrepresented groups in
chemistry and biology, so this initiative to recruit and retain Native
American students is a natural fit for our Office of Multicultural
Programs."

Dwight Lewis, director of multicultural programs for the graduate school,
has been studying the history of American Indians in the Tippecanoe area
and said it's an appropriate time to initiate this program.

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"For thousands of years, Tippecanoe County, the Wabash River and
Prophetstown were all key locations for Native Americans, and it's time for
them to come back," Lewis said. "The first challenge we face is the
distance from their Native communities. Because Native Americans are more
likely to grow up in an ethnically homogeneous environment, it's our job to
create a similar community here in West Lafayette for them."

Faculty involvement will be crucial to the success of the program, he said,
which has received initial funding from the Office of the Provost. In
addition, there are several American Indian Purdue faculty, and they have
been actively involved in creating the program.

"We know how to do this. We have activities to use for just this purpose,"
Lewis said. "To make this work, we need to have help from the faculty. At
the end of the day, these students are going to have to be comfortable to
be successful."

The Purdue program will draw future graduate students from the Northern
Arizona University program for undergraduate research that started from a
grant from Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. The NAU program, run by Thom
Alcoze, professor of forest ecology and wildlife, and Sally Alcoze,
associate professor in literacy and diversity education, began as a
peer-mentoring core in fall 2004.

"The students accomplished outcomes at the end of the year that we never
could've imagined and we feel it's important to encourage them to continue
their education," Thom Alcoze said. "They learned to do field research and
connect it to their own disciplines."

Sally Alcoze said she hopes the Purdue program can provide help for
students and their immediate families in a number of ways: by providing
financial aid packages that include reduced costs in housing for husbands,
wives and children, and day care and classes scheduled to provide peer
support, such as peer study groups and informal get-togethers.

Contreni said there are Native students now at Purdue who will make up the
first group, but he hopes to bring in more who already know each other from
this mentoring program at Northern Arizona University.

"There are career and employment opportunities that didn't exist 20 -- 30
years ago," Contreni said. "There is a real need for Native Americans with
graduate educations."