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Wisconsin, Wyoming colleges collaborate to help reservation students gain degrees

Jan 6, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Through a combined effort from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the Wind River Tribal College, students of the Wind River Indian Reservation walked the stage and earned their diplomas Dec. 14 in Wisconsin. The 11 graduates majored in elementary education with a focus in early childhood education and will continue to serve locally by working at the Headstart locations in Fort Washakie, Ethete and Arapahoe and in other local teaching positions.

Graduates Denise D. Aragon, Violet Aragon, Alta Y. Chavez, Dwan Hereford, Ronald Howard, Teresa Maloney, Gary Martine and Judith Tidzump received their degrees from UW-Oshkosh, while Barbara Wager received her diploma from Kendall College and Lisa Williams from Chico State College.

Aragon said her three years of study were accompanied by tedious work and a lot of time away from home and her family. When graduation rolled in, however, it all changed.

"It was a lot of weight off my shoulders," she said.

William's advice was that anybody could do it and continue with higher education even at an older age. She also said Joseph Henry, the executive director of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe Headstart programs, was supportive of everyone pursuing a degree and making education a priority.

All were part of a three-year program that was supported by grants from the Department of Education and Office of Indian Education.

Faculty from UW-Oshkosh connected with the students at the tribal college and provided them with the required college credits. Education and Human Services professors Susan Finkel and Suzanne Doemel travelled to the reservation several times to teach courses. The students were able to remain at home and take six- to seven-hour long classes, many of which were on the weekends or in the summer.

"They sacrificed a lot, but that's what it takes," said Wind River Tribal College president Marlin Spoonhunter during a congratulatory ceremony Dec. 20 in Riverton. "Education is good because you take it wherever you go, (and) it takes you a long way."

He added that many of them had doubts in the beginning, had trouble with classes or their transcripts, and some wanted to drop out, though they didn't. He congratulated them for being the new set of teachers for the reservation, for committing to their love of education and children, and for applying their skills to their community.

"The next step is a master's degree ... eventually a Ph.D," Spoonhunter said to the students and their attending friends and family. "But in the process we can't forget who we are."

And although teaching isn't a high paying job, Spoonhunter said, the service the instructors will provide to the reservation will be worthwhile.

"If you love children, you're going to be a good teacher," he said.

Henry thanked the tribes' business councils and the Headstart policy council for their financial support.

"Education is the coin of the realm, the weapon of choice and is the greatest equalizing force in society," Henry said.

The Wyoming Women's Foundation also made a monetary contribution of $10,000.

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