From the small town of Owyhee on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in northern Nevada, freshman Israel Hernandez has come a long way from home to pursue a degree at the University of Idaho. At the Native American Student Center on campus, though, he’s found new friends, common bonds and academic and personal support.
"I come here every day," Israel said, "and I feel welcome. You get your studying done, and it’s a place to learn. But you also gain the guidance that makes the college experience that much better."
Before he made the UI his choice, Israel had visited once before, traveling to Moscow to attend the Tutxinmepu Powwow, an annual, signature event at UI organized by the Native American Student Association, with traditional dances, music, and arts and crafts. It was an experience that helped him get to know the beautiful campus and picture himself living and learning on the Palouse.
As a new student, he’s jumped headfirst into life in his new home. He’s declared as a business major, and found exciting things to be a part of, such as the snowboarding club. The Native American Student Center has also been a hub of his campus experience. He joined the Vandal Nation drummers group, with student members from tribes and communities across the region coming together once a week at the center to practice traditional songs. The group has performed before numerous community groups and at events, including the powwow.
"Back home, I used to drum, too, but I kind of got away from it," Israel said. "So when I came up here, I heard they had a drum group, and I thought, 'Why don’t I start drumming again?'"
Those shared connections and interests have meant a smooth transition to life at the University of Idaho. Other opportunities through UI and the Native American Student Center have included a summer 2014 trip to Hawaii as part of an anthropology intercultural class – he worked at a wildlife refuge, learning about and restoring endangered plant species. The class is offered to students who have high academic achievement and participate in Center activities and services.
Like many students, Israel has received financial support to help make college affordable, including scholarship dollars targeting students from diverse backgrounds – crucial assistance for tuition, books and expenses. The financial, cultural and academic support, and the opportunities he’s embraced through the Native American Student Center, have shaped a transformative experience early in his college career.
"Home for me is nine hours away," Israel said, "but coming over here meant instant friends and instant family. It’s like a second home."