South Dakota Tech News
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2004
Contact: Steve Buchholz, Public Information Manager, 394-6082
South Dakota Tech Creates Multicultural Committee
When Timothy Bull Bennett strode across the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center stage in May 2004 to receive his hard-earned doctorate from South Dakota Tech, he accomplished two additional things. He set a milestone by becoming the first native student to receive a Ph.D. from Tech. He also set the stage for more American Indian students to become part of the Tech community.
Historically, the population of native students and graduates at South Dakota Tech has been small, but it has increased in recent years. In May 2004, nine American Indians received degrees from Tech, one of the highest numbers of any engineering university in the country.
This fall, more than 10 Native American graduate students, and more than 65 native undergraduate students, are enrolled at Tech. Both numbers set university records.
South Dakota Tech has created a Multicultural Committee that will devise strategies to increase these numbers. Tech officials announced the formation of the Multicultural Committee during a press conference held Thursday, Nov. 18, on campus. University, local school district, and city representatives attended the event.
Tech, an engineering and science university located in Rapid City, S.D., wants to attract and keep more native students to meet critical but basic goals.
“Increased employment opportunities, accreditation, diversity,” Dr. Jacquelyn Bolman, a member of Tech’s Multicultural Committee, said. “That’s why we need to do this.”
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“As a university, we are making progress, but this issue is so important, we can’t sit back and say we’ve done our job,” Multicultural Committee Chair Dr. Al Boysen said. “We are talking about the American dream, and about making sure all students have the access and equity they need to pursue the education necessary to achieve that dream.”
In the past two years, Tech has set several records. In the fall semester 2003, Tech enrolled 22 first-time American Indian students, the most ever. In the same semester, Tech had a total native enrollment of 65, also a record. Still, that number represented less than 4 percent of the student population, while Native Americans represent 8.3 percent of the South Dakota’s population. Nationwide, only 315 American Indians graduated with bachelor’s degrees in engineering in May 2003, the most recent national figures available. Between 2000 and 2004, 17 American Indians graduated from Tech with bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees.
Tech’s Multicultural Committee has worked for several months forming the cornerstones of its work. During the current academic year, the Multicultural Committee, with membership from administration, faculty, staff, and students, will review previous diversity strategies, hear relevant testimony, and make strategic recommendations to President Charles Ruch by May 2005.
The strategies are expected to reach out to several target groups – the native community in Rapid City, students in kindergarten through 12th grade on South Dakota’s reservations, and the participants and graduates of Tech’s already-established American Indian outreach programs.
“This is not affirmative action,” said Bolman, manager of special projects in Tech’s Graduate Education and Sponsored Programs Department. “We are seeking students who can successfully do the mathematics and science, are interested in a science or engineering career, and are committed to four to six years of study. Earning a degree from this university is difficult. It always will be.”
When those qualified, interested, and committed students join Tech, they will have access to an integrated support system. Students will have a faculty or staff member who is a single point of contact and can help students deal with and overcome academic and personal challenges. Native students have other support mechanisms in place, such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Minority Study Center, and a chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
“We will make sure that students understand the steps they need to take to
succeed,” Bolman said. “They will be aware of, and be able to navigate, the expectations and processes of this university. We know these students have the talent, and we know that they can succeed because we’ve seen it before. The success we have in the future will be built on the success of native students in the past.”
Recruitment of native students has evolved during the past several years. Multicultural Affairs staff have visited dozens of reservation schools, and given campus tours to hundreds of Indian students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Tech also hosts the NASA Honors summer program, the National Science Foundation’s Bridges to Success program, the NSF’s Fire Ecology Summer Camp, and other programs that bring native students to campus to learn mathematics and science skills and to connect with Tech faculty and staff.
“Recruitment and retention of American Indian students has improved because of the holistic approach we’ve taken to this issue,” Bolman said. “We don’t address only the academics. We pay attention to the whole student.”
Tech will continue those successful strategies, and incorporate others as it moves forward with this initiative. Boysen and Bolman expect that the strategies the university adopts will be applicable to all students. They also know that increasing diversity on campus will benefit all students while they are on campus, and after they receive their diplomas.
“Historically, the work ethic of South Dakota Tech students was enough for them to get a start on a great career,” Boysen, a professor in the Humanities Department, said. “But we’ve moved into a different world where students need to have a global view. That’s what employers want, and that’s what increasing diversity can give us.”
Industry recruiters often ask about the diversity of a university’s student body before visiting. If the numbers won’t give a company access to a diverse sample of students, recruiters may go someplace else. A diverse student body also is an aspect of a university’s accreditation process. While accreditation agencies don’t set diversity standards, they do expect an effort to create a diverse student population.
"I don't think it's too extreme to say that the work we are doing here is the responsibility of all us in the university community,” Boysen said. ��Our future is, indeed, in our hands.”
Boysen and Bolman see in that future a university that has changed organizationally, culturally, educationally, and financially, and where diversity is fully integrated with the university’s framework.
“We have a dream,” Bolman said. “We know we can succeed, and we know that the success of this initiative will improve the lives of citizens in South Dakota and in every place where our graduates live and work.”
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