The services that help make Montana State University a home away from home for American Indian and Alaska Native students will soon expand, MSU officials announced recently.
The Department of Native American Studies and its American Indian Alaska Native Student Success Services will increase the services that help make MSU comfortable for Indigenous students, according to Walter Fleming, head of the Department of Native American Studies.
The additional programming is made possible through a $2.75 million grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. Fleming calls the funding a once in a generation gift that will change the level of services that MSU can provide to its Native American community.
The expansion is the most recent of several pieces of good news for MSU’s Native American community. The university recently opened its new American Indian Hall, an architecturally stunning building that was more than 16 years in planning, funding and building. MSU also recorded a record number of Native American/Alaska Native students with more than 800 enrolling for the fall semester. In October the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium recommended that the department receive accreditation making it one of the first Indigenous programs at a mainstream institution to receive the designation.
Kristin Ruppel, who with Fleming is co-principal investigator of the grant, said that the opening of the AIH provided opportunities to grow new programming to match the new building in its dedication to Native American ways of knowing, being and doing.
“The new building and the relationships formed and renewed around its evolution, now 15-plus years in the making, continue to inspire fresh insights into how the university community can improve and be improved by its relationships with Native students, their families and the communities from which they come,” Ruppel said.
Fleming said his department has targeted several areas that will be enriched, all of which will help support Native student success by bolstering multi-generational and community-based networks. They include an elder-in-residence program; a peer mentoring program that would support students and their families; and year-round cultural and academic programming.
Kristie Russette, outreach coordinator and recruitment specialist for the department, said that the university will also be able to expand outreach efforts to Native students by strengthening cultural programs and support systems that will provide the home-like atmosphere that Indigenous students say is so important.
“Our students say that one thing they miss when they come to (university) is the cultural components and community ways,” she said. “This will help us be able to create home here (on campus). We are going to be able to make good things happen.”