First Year Experience to Help Students Succeed

Feb 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 16-3: Indigenizing Education, Tribal College News
DANIEL WILDCAT

CAMUS COMING. Visiting instructor Daniel Wildcat helped students, staff, and faculty plant bulbs for a traditional food, camus, in several sunny campus locations.

Students at Northwest Indian College’s (NWIC, Bellingham, WA) Lummi campus and extended campuses are benefiting from a new cohort-style learning program, the “First Year Experience” (FYE), aimed at supporting the transition into college.

As colleges across the United States recognize that the first year is often the most difficult for incoming freshmen, many are adjusting their programs to offer more support.  NWIC is one of the first tribal colleges to adopt this cohort-style learning program.

Community-building and place-based learning are at the heart of the First Year Experience. “Many NWIC students seek out the school because of these

approaches that place the student first and keep the classes small, rarely exceeding 10 students per class,” says Emma Spenner Norman of NWIC’s science faculty.

Courses are designed to help new students succeed. An environment is created that respects, honors, and acknowledges Native perspectives and values. Activities, special seminars, and hands-on learning projects allow students to get to know their peers and the NWIC and Lummi communities.

Courses are thematic each quarter and relevant to the season. The fall program focuses on relationship to place: the Pacific Northwest, the land and traditions of its indigenous people. Courses include biology and natural history of Puget Sound. Study skills and college success strategies are integrated into the core studies.

Winter, a time for reflection, focuses on the foundations of Native history prior to European contact and on interpersonal communications. In addition to courses in these areas, students are enrolled in math and English courses appropriate to their level.

Spring, a time for renewal, is the last quarter of the FYE, and students are encouraged to enroll in courses of particular interest to them as well as to continue with Native American history, post-European contact.

In addition, students connect to the community (on and off campus) through internships, service-learning projects, and by contacts with special guests.

In the fall quarter FYE brought in two celebrated Native Americans to share their experience and expertise: Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi Muskogee tribe), professor at Haskell Indian Nations University, who is an expert in traditional ecological knowledge, and Samuel Tso, a Navajo Codetalker from World War II, who has ties to Lummi.

“The FYE is in its infancy,” says Norman, “but what we have learned so far is that education can (and should) be fun, reflective, and relevant.”

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