AIHEC Honors Outgoing Executive Director

May 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 12-4: Colleges for the Community, Tribal College News
VERONICA GONZALES RECEIVING GIFT

Veronica Gonzales receives a gift from Dr. Carolyn Elgin, president of the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute. Photo by Ken Cedeno

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) board took time out Feb. 9 to honor Veronica Gonzales, who has served the organization of tribal colleges since 1994, six years as executive director. Tribal college presidents showered her with gifts and compliments.

Under her direction, AIHEC succeeded in getting a Presidential Executive Order for Tribal Colleges and Universities, which was signed by President Bill Clinton on Oct. 19, 1996. “It took a tremendous amount of shoe leather to build relationships with all the departments of the executive department,” Dr. Janine Pease-Pretty on Top said at the time. “Veronica is a master at it.” Gonzales and the tribal college presidents had to start with minor officials, explaining what a tribal college was and move up through each department to the secretarial level.

The Executive Order has resulted in millions of additional dollars and resources for the colleges. It has built new relationships with departments such as Commerce, Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. In the past, the tribal colleges had worked primarily with the Departments of Interior, Education, Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Agriculture.

Dr. Joe McDonald, president of Salish Kootenai College in Montana, credits Gonzales with establishing a relationship between the tribal colleges and the Office of Management and the Budget (OMB). “That really made a difference,” he said. The colleges knew as early as the 1970s the importance of working with OMB, but they didn’t know how to open the door.

In 1996, Gonzales met with Joel Kaplan from the staff of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies. She explained AIHEC’s frustration with the lack of progress on the Executive Order. He made several high level calls and set up an appointment at OMB for Pease-Pretty on Top. After that, the administration always requested more support from Congress for the tribal colleges. In one instance, the Bureau of Indian Affairs submitted a budget, and OMB returned it to the agency because it did not provide enough for tribal colleges’ core funding, McDonald said.

“She is an incessant worker,” McDonald said. He would call her with only half a day’s notice, and she would set up appointments with administrative departments and members of Congress. “I’d end the day exhausted with my tongue hanging out,” he said.

The AIHEC infrastructure has significantly improved since 1995. The central staff grew from a low of 3 employees to its present level of 13. Through the efforts of tribal college administrators and AIHEC staff, federal funding opportunities for tribal college and universities have increased by $113 million over the past six years. However, they hare still under funded compared with other institutions.

A graduate of the University of New Mexico with degrees in political science and English, Gonzales previously served as a legislative aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a special assistant for two Congressmen, and a senior legislative advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dr. Gerald Gipp, a former official at the National Science Foundation, is AIHEC’s new executive director. Gipp, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, holds doctorate and master’s degrees from Pennsylvania State University, with an emphasis on educational leadership and administration. Gonzales continues to serve AIHEC as a senior advisor.

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