Center provides network for Native Americans at U

Jenniffer Wise

After visiting colleges in three different states, Lance Twitchell said he decided to attend the University because it met many of his needs.
As a Native American from the Tlingit and Haida tribes in Alaska, the College of Liberal Arts junior said he wanted to go to a school close to his relatives. He also liked the Twin Cities community and the large number of Native Americans here.
“I am from a town of under 1,000, and coming to a school of 30 times that, I was afraid of it,” said Twitchell. “I had cousins, relatives, mom and dad, and there was always family, and we were always together.”
Officials from the American Indian Learning Resource Center said they want more people, like Twitchell, to explore the University and what the school has to offer.
The center held an American Indian Career Day on Thursday at Coffman Memorial Union as a recruitment tool. Two hundred high school students learned how to fund college, be admitted and use support services unique to Native American students at the University.
There are about 270 Native American students entering the University each fall, representing about 50 tribes, said Elder Counsel Member of the center Jim Clairmont.
In the past, many Native American students majored in education and counseling. Now, the programs they are selecting are more diverse, said Justin Huenemann, a counselor at the center.
Sessions that explored such majors as health and pre-medicine, natural resources, computer science and American Indian studies were offered by the center.
Shawn DeGroat, an Ojibwe student at Coon Rapids High School, wants to study computer science. Classmate Eric Jackman, a senior, wants to study criminal justice to suit his desire to become a police officer.
Finding a fitting major is just one step in retaining Native American freshmen at the University. Another step is making the students feel at home.
An average of 70 percent of the Native American student population drop out in their first year. One reason for this high statistic could be that they are the smallest represented ethnic group at the University, said Huenemann. Other reasons include personal and family problems, and homesickness.
Mentoring between student volunteers and businesses, tutoring, cultural activities and special social nights helped Twitchell fight the feeling of isolation, he said.
Twitchell plans to go back to his hometown after he graduates. He will live with his grandparents, assistant teach, and enter graduate school for elementary education. He hopes to teach his native language in his hometown school. He said he will be the first person under the age of 40 from his hometown to speak the language.
“The native language is our culture,” Twitchell said. “It reflects our values and knowledge. We have to get it back into the home.”