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Spring 2023

Grant Paves Pathways to Indigenous Student Success

A grant is helping two CALS faculty members explore ways to better support tribal students and their overall success in higher education.

two students stand in front of a poster board for the Native American student association
Native American Student Association president Honiah Adria Locklear speaks with students about the organization and its work.

Two North Carolina State University faculty members interested in leadership education and student success are making headway in building relationships between tribal communities and higher education. 

Jackie Bruce and Katherine McKee are exploring ways to support tribal students and their path to higher education, and increase their retention and graduation rates with a New Beginnings for Tribal Students grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. 

“Creating pathways and opportunities for students is what really drew us to this project,” says Bruce. “There’s a real desire among faculty and staff at NC State to learn more about tribal communities and how to better serve tribal students.”

Bruce says applying for the grant was a no-brainer.

There’s a real desire… to learn more about tribal communities and how to better serve tribal students.

“We knew the college would be super supportive, and they have been,” she explains. ”We knew it would be very welcomed, and it fits in line with the work, more globally, that Katherine and I do in terms of justice and equity.”

Bruce and McKee are in their third year of the project. One of the biggest takeaways for McKee was discovering how crucial it was having someone on site in the Qualla Boundary—a territory held as a land trust by the United States government for the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee—to be the “day-to-day person” to assist in their work.

It became especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. McKee and Bruce began their grant in fall 2019 and face-to-face interactions became challenging. The two quickly shifted gears and turned their in-person events to virtual. Though it didn’t quite live up to their original plan, they were determined to carry out the work. 

“Our overarching goals are to create places at NC State that youth from Eastern Band of the Cherokee would be comfortable coming to and feeling like they belong to pursue their degrees,” says McKee.

“We’re still trying to figure out new ways, better ways to create relationships,” says Bruce. “We’ve learned a ton through this process and there are still so many incredible opportunities to create more partnerships. It’s very exciting and could be incredible for our college.”

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