UMPI raises awareness of native cultures

Posted Oct. 23, 2009, at 5:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:39 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For the past year, the University of Maine at Presque Isle has been working to develop and improve culturally responsive retention strategies for its American Indian students.

That effort has been expanded thanks to nearly $18,000 in funding that will be used to engage students and increase campus awareness of native cultures.

In January, UMPI received a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation that will allow UMPI to better serve its American Indian student population as well as the region’s American Indian community.

The award made the university eligible to receive up to $750,000 over the next four years to put toward this effort. UMPI is one of four universities in New England chosen to participate in Project Compass, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s multiyear initiative aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented populations graduating with four-year degrees. Project Compass is administered by the foundation’s intermediary, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education.

Officials with Project Compass recently announced that it has funded nine minigrants that are being administered to campus faculty and staff.

These minigrant projects, to be implemented during the next year, are one portion of a comprehensive, multiyear plan to improve American Indian student retention, academic success and graduation rates at UMPI. The university has engaged the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in this effort.

Staffers have been hired to welcome American Indian students to campus and build bridges between the students and academic departments. Earlier this month, the university established a Native American Educational and Services Center on campus. A similar center was established at the Houlton Higher Education Center.

The new center is a place where American Indian students can go to receive tutoring and support, secure assistance filling out required forms or just relax.

The university also has developed integrated First Year Learning Communities to cater to American Indians and other underserved groups of students.

Eight UMPI professors and staff members have secured the $18,000 worth of minigrants, UMPI officials said earlier this week.

The minigrants will help support professional development, fund activities and even pay for a garden on campus.

A fraction of the money, $870, will be used to organize a professional development opportunity for UMPI adjunct faculty at the Houlton Higher Education Center. Faculty will view a documentary film and participate in a discussion of the survival of American Indian culture in today’s world. The discussion, led by Richard Silliboy, a tribal member with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, will involve dialogue on how to incorporate American Indian culture across the curriculum.

The new Native American Educational and Services Center also will be stocked with supplies from the funding, and $1,875 will be used to engage students in revamping the West Campus Woods. The project will be done in collaboration with native community members and will include new and replaced posts and signage, an informative trailhead and a new trail that leads to black ash, the tree used in native basket-making.

Grant money also will be used to work with American Indian students to increase coverage of pertinent events and issues on campus and beyond and to work toward the creation of an Advocacy Center or Advocacy Summer Institute. The funding also will allow a social psychology course to be modified to integrate and empha-size American Indian perspectives, history and culture through presentations, readings, discussions, films and writing assignments.

The facade of the campus also will change because of the minigrants, UMPI officials said this week, as $1,115 in funding will be used to create a Wabanaki garden on campus. The garden will feature plant specimens used by local American Indians for such purposes as food, healing, dyes, ceremonies and artifacts.

According to the college, a student will work under the direction of professors and a member of one of the local American Indian tribes to design the garden and develop an informative brochure.

The garden and educational materials are expected to be used in anthropology, botany and environmental science courses.

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