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UTTC Students Return Experienced Leaders to Office

21 December 2012

Student government leaders listen to a presentation by student Wiyaka Chasing Hawk (Cheyenne River) during a UTTC Student Senate meeting. From left, Secretary Uriah Wise Spirit, majoring in Criminal Justice, and President Devero Yellow Earring, Vice President Nicole Montclair Donaghy, and Historian/Parliamentarian Wendy Jourdain, all majoring in business. DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

BISMARCK (UTN) – Against the backdrop of a Presidential Election, students at United Tribes Technical College voted to return a group with experience and something in common as their student leaders for the 2012-13 Academic Year.

Members of the student body cast ballots online in September, returning Devero Yellow Earring to a second term as their Student Senate president. Yellow Earring is a third-year student from Eagle Butte, SD and a member of the Cheyenne River Tribe.

Lydale Yazzie, Treasurer DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

Also winning re-election were Vice President Nicole Montclair Donaghy (Standing Rock), Treasurer Lydale Yazzie (Navajo), and Historian/Parliamentarian Wendy Jourdain (Red Lake Band of Chippewa). They were joined on the panel by newly elected member Uriah Wise Spirit (Standing Rock) Secretary.

As one of the nation’s leading tribal colleges, United Tribes attracts students from all over. Represented among the 528 students enrolled for Fall Semester are students from 40 different tribes around the country. Most are from tribes in the region. The largest number (74 students) come from Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold, followed closely by Standing Rock (72), Cheyenne River (51), Turtle Mountain (50), and Rosebud (27).

If there is a common thread among the student leaders it is business. Four of the five are studying business, either in the college’s two-year program or in the new bachelor’s Business Administration program.

“This particular team is the first group of bachelor degree students to serve in this capacity,” says Dr. Russell Swagger, United Tribes Vice President of Student and Campus Services. “It’s a historic step for the college now that we have four-year programs. I’ve worked with many student senates over the years. I’ve witnessed the evolution of the leadership of this group and I’m very impressed.”

Having business students in the lead of student government may not be a coincidence. The student senate president says that being involved in student government plays a role in their course of study.

Devero Yellow Earring speaking at the State Capitol in Bismarck. DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

“We as business students are qualified because we study about customer service, organizations and how to get things done,” says Yellow Earring. “Plus we are interested in service and making a difference.”

Yellow Earring, 20, is in the four-year business program. He is married and has a three-year-old daughter. At six-foot-four, he’s easy to spot on campus, approachable and friendly. He played basketball for the United Tribes Thunderbirds and was the team’s co-captain. For the past two years he has been in the college’s “Leadership Through Experience” student work program, assigned to the Strengthening Lifestyles Department in the campus wellness center.

“I’m a firm believer in leading by example,” he said during a speech at the North Dakota Capitol in early October during the state’s observance of First Nations Day. “Actions speak louder than words.”

In politics there are “show horses” and there are “work horses.” Being on the UTTC leadership team clearly brings a mix between responsibilities and rewards, which trend more toward the responsibilities. Over the past year, the Student Senate has turned-in a long list of accomplishments for their student constituents and the campus community.

In terms of service, they organized the Thanksgiving potluck dinner for those who remain on campus during the annual holiday; hosted a Christmas open house and bingo and a Santa’s workshop for the children of students. They planned and conducted the events of homecoming week; coordinated the Welcome-Back Powwow with its hand-drum and dance contests; served on the spring graduation committee; planned and hosted the student awards banquet; and organized volunteers for the annual United Tribes International Powwow.

Called on for their opinions, student leaders provided input into the college’s strategic plan. They attended meetings of the campus vice president’s council; networked with a local young professionals group; presented talks during professional development day; met with faculty advisors to boost participation in the vocations; and attended a citizens workshop in Montana.

Some of the thorny problem-solving that comes their way centers on community issues, such as mediating student complaints about food service, housing and campus rules. Other issues involve finding financial aid or helping resolving disciplinary appeals.

“They experience their share of frustrations with the complicated questions, but each challenge that comes along provides an opportunity to address real life tribal leadership issues,” said Swagger. “Often I see in them a real drive. And this generation thinks differently than previous generations. It influences how they lead.”

The few perks that come along include attending the annual gala dinner-event of the American Indian College Fund in Denver and visiting Washington, DC in the company of the college president.

As exciting as the travel can be, it also requires participating in tribal higher education meetings or advocating for tribal colleges with members of Congress or government officials. That means planning and preparation on top of the academic work required by their college courses. It can be quite a challenge juggling the demands.

“I often have to check and make sure they’re organizing their time and allowing for family and studies,” says Student Senate adviser Kathy Johnson, Senior Associate Vice President of Student and Campus Services. “They set a high bar for themselves and it takes time. It requires meetings during the week and some Saturdays.”

Being a close-knit group that has worked together for awhile has everything to do with their success, says Johnson. “Most important, they have a strong interest in how other students are doing here at UTTC and they work directly with and for them.”

As an example, Johnson says they conducted a session during a recent college-wide professional development day to gather information and comments directly from the student body.

“They used that information, along with discussions at weekly assembly meetings, to address student concerns,” she says. “They want other students to know they’re a voice for students. But they also realize they can’t do it alone. They need the involvement of students. That’s why they have the motto: ‘Solutions through Involvement.’”

The outlook of their president is to always do the best job he can. Yellow Earring is only the second person in his family to have the opportunity to earn a degree. He’s aware of the importance of that to him and his young family’s future and the honor it brings in tribal communities where higher education is often out of reach.

“I’m fortunate where I’m at in my life today and I try to share that,” he says. “I want to show that it’s possible to get an education.”

In his speech at the state capitol, he said his persistence and focus come from a near-death experience as a youngster. At age three he was attending a rummage sale with his family when he was accidentally backed-over by a pickup truck, collapsing his lungs and sending him on a life-saving flight to the Rapid City Regional Hospital. “I’m blessed to be here because I got a second chance and I’m trying to make the most of it.”

Making the most includes setting a good example in the classroom and being outgoing and friendly throughout campus. Yellow Earring points out that UTTC has a family atmosphere, with three daycare centers and a K-to-Eight elementary school, with lots of active, impressionable youngsters on campus.

“I know they’re looking up to us and I try the best I can to set a good example for them,” he says. “And to involve them in our campus activities.”

The Student Senate’s general assembly meetings are held weekly in the cafeteria and open to representatives of all campus organizations, vocations and individuals. The leadership team brings a printed agenda to help them stay on track as they get down to business.

2012/13 Student Senate

Congratulations to the winners and ‘thank you’ to everyone who voted in September in the Student Senate election. The following students were elected to office by the votes cast online by the UTTC student body:

PRESIDENT: Devero Yellow Earring 75, Roger Big Crow 17, EJ Hubbard 16
VICE PRESIDENT: Nicole Montclair Donaghy 42, Nicole Ducheneaux 33, Doreen Pretends Eagle (Welsch) 31
SECRETARY: Uriah Wise Spirit 44, Janna Soberg 33, Kristin Fox 21, Andre Clark 6
TREASURER: Lydale Yazzie 59, Shealynn Wells 47
HISTORIAN/PARLIAMENTARIAN: Wendy Jourdain 61, Lacey McThias 45
SERGEANT AT ARMS: position open

– Kathy Johnson, Sr. Associate VP Student and Campus Services

Leaders in the Making

Dr. Russell Swagger DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

By Russell Swagger, UTTC Vice President of Student and Campus Services

For a long time critics have said that Indian Country lacks leaders – that problems we face are the product of some deficiency in our leadership. People who are unfamiliar with us can do a great injustice through their lack of understanding.

Not for a moment do I believe that we have been failed by leaders who care for the wellbeing of our people, who value our culture, and who maintain faith in the traditions that have guided Native people through time. In fact, I see better, more effective leadership in Indian Country and more good leaders emerging with each passing year. I am especially encouraged by those we see in higher education who are rising to their potential, including the current student leadership at United Tribes.

Progressive, positive and critical-thinkers are three terms I use to describe the characteristics of this group. I’ve witnessed their evolution over the past two years and I believe their accomplishments come from “leadership by example.” Our student leaders are committed to service. They’ve learned the lesson about ego: that a title doesn’t mean anything without action in service to people.

Progressive, positive and critical-thinkers are three terms I use to describe the characteristics of this group. I’ve witnessed their evolution over the past two years and I believe their accomplishments come from “leadership by example.” Our student leaders are committed to service. They’ve learned the lesson about ego: that a title doesn’t mean anything without action in service to people.

Their challenges have been difficult. They have not backed down. The issues they’ve confronted have been complex, and they’ve sought wisdom before action. They’ve kept culture, tradition, language and customs central in their thinking.

I also believe that their success flows from having life experiences and being able to apply what they’ve learned.

I’m not only proud, I’m very impressed. I’ve worked with many student senates over the years and the current group exhibits the kind of leadership capabilities that has made for notable and significant improvements for our community of learners. And I believe their record of accomplishments will continue before their term is over.

Thank you Student Senate for reminding me in such a powerful way that leadership is about service to your people. You serve your people well! Keep up the great work. Stay connected to your values and always remember your purpose and why you exist.

Thank you also to Kathy Johnson for her devotion to the student senate, along with Rhonda Breuer, Brad Hawk, Mark Mindt and Tamera Marshall for their capable service. They too have led by example and this has strengthened and supported student leadership development.

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