LUMMI, Wash. - If you've thought of returning to college but felt you
couldn't or didn't have the time, talk to Frances Jules.
Her husband, Army Sgt. Isha Jules, spent a year in Iraq. Raising their
three children - ages 14, 11 and 4 - alone during his absence didn't deter
her from her studies. And on June 17, Jules - a living portrait of
determination - received her degree from Northwest Indian College with
plans to study business law or economic law at Western Washington
"They cater to you to get you through," Jules said of the college, which
let her take her 4-year-old daughter, Ariah, to classes. "They gave me the
opportunity to be with my children and bring them to classes in order to
keep me going."
Seventy students received two-year degrees in nine fields of study in a
ceremony in the Lummi Indian Nation's Wex Li Em Community Building. Keynote
speakers were Dr. Aaron Thomas, Navajo, professor of chemical engineering
at the University of Idaho; and actor Gene Tagaban,
Cherokee/Tlingit/Filipino, who played Aristotle Joseph in the 2002 Sherman
Alexie film, "The Business of Fancydancing."
Student speakers were Diana Howell, Lummi; Rudy Shebala, Nez Perce; and
John Strombeck, Nez Perce.
"It's a great day," said Fred Dorr, the college's community relations
director. Stories like Jules' gave him reason to celebrate. Enrollment is
up and he expects it to continue to grow.
Dorr said students' successes are having a ripple effect in their
communities. "Each student reaches about 25 people - family and friends -
in a significant way," he said. "They are positive role models. Others see
what they've accomplished and say, 'Hey, maybe I can do that too.'"
A look at the statistics provides inspiration for younger and older
students as well. The average age of Northwest Indian College students is
27; 64 percent of students are older than 30; 44 percent are married.
"And 50 percent have two or more dependent children. That's why we're going
to build a day care in the first phase of the new college."
Northwest Indian College is the only regional tribal college in the
country. It has 29 extension campuses in the Puget Sound region. For
example, Squaxin Island Tribe students access classes and seminars from
Northwest Indian College - 170 miles to the north - thanks to a learning
center in the Squaxin Island Tribe Museum, Library and Research Center.
A media wall in the learning center allows students to participate in live
college classes by videoconference.
"We have had students from 80 different tribes. It's only going to get
broader," Dorr said.
The college is planning a new campus, with the intent of going to four
years. The National Indian Center for Marine Environmental Research and
Education is being developed in partnership with the University of
Jamie Sluys, the new athletic director, is working to expand the college's
sports programs. It currently offers basketball and softball; he's
recruiting a volleyball team and wants to add archery, bowling, cross
country, golf and lacrosse.
Sluys hoped to raise $20,000 at the 4th annual golf tournament June 17 to
benefit the college's sports program. The tournament, at Shuksan Golf Club,
kicked off Lummi's five-day Stommish Water Festival and Pow Wow.
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.