Lecture: Chen Yi, composer
by D.A. Barber
The office of Native American Student Affairs offers campus support services to 640 undergraduate students.
But unlike other arms of the Department of Multicultural Programs and Services, the arriving Native American students represent some 50 culturally diverse tribes from around the country. At first glance, this might seem like a nightmare for the director, Bruce Meyers.
"There is a diversity in terms of the number of different languages spoken, style of dress, and different extended family clan systems."
Meyers says that though American-Indian peoples "are some of the most diverse people in the United States," it isn't a difficult process to serve the various tribal ethnicities.
"Essentially the values are the same for all American Indians, so we're more alike than we are different. It all boils down to a matter of respect and appreciating one's differences."
Meyers has been with Native American Student Affairs since August 1995 and has tracked student retention rates dating back to 1986. Not only are the retention and graduation rates for American Indians the lowest of all campus undergraduates, they have not improved during the past decade. It's the high drop-out numbers - averaging about 40 percent during the freshman year, and rising to 55, 60 and 70 percent during the second, third and fourth years respectively _ that his office strives to improve. The approach of the office and the Native American Resource Center (NARC) is to get students through the crucial freshmen year and then emphasize mentoring during their second and third years. Both approaches aim to help students adjust to University life and overcome their feelings of loneliness.
"There is a disconnectedness many students feel coming from reservations and Indian communities where there are extended families. When you can call a third or fourth cousin your brother or sister, that's the clan system that shows there is a very tight extended community, and that's the connectedness they miss. So we have the Mentor Program that aims to connect older students with younger students."
Other programs and services helping students stay in school include a volunteer tutor program, computer lab, cultural support services and American Indian Student Achievement Program aimed at freshmen.
"What we try to do with the freshmen is give them guided interaction with faculty members, touch base with the Freshmen Center, and make sure they are connected to the English Department."
Another part of the offices' academic intervention is the Faculty Fellow Program, which places a faculty from a specific department into a different department, student support unit, or in a sorority or fraternity.
"We really lucked-out in getting Dr. David Lowmen, who is a faculty in the math department. For some reason the schools on the reservations don't place a lot of emphasis on math and science. But that's what it takes to succeed and do very well at the academic level."
Meyers says that getting Faculty Fellows not only helps the students, but the Faculty Fellows helps the center get in touch with other faculty.
"They talk the same language and there's an element of respect. They can call up some other faculty when students have "Ds" or lower and have those faculty members give our students some pointers on what it might take to succeed in their class."
Meyers feels that the pride and emphasis at UA as a Research I University can make it a bit difficult to find faculty with spare time for students.
"So when we have a program here that is trying to place emphasis on student success and making sure those students are connected to faculty, we really have to work at it."
In a state with the third largest American Indian population in the country, the one thing UA isn't doing is stealing any glory from tribal colleges.
"The UA is not competing with tribal colleges, in fact we prefer a lot of students go to tribal colleges first before coming here. Their chances of success and making it academically increase after they've had a tribal college experience because its been shown they are better prepared and we have a better graduation rate with tribal community college graduates," says Meyers.
"Because of tribal colleges, we are actually recruiting students who would have never gone to the University in the first place."
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University of Arizona in the News