Native American Student Center Creates a Connection to Campus
By Amanda Cairo
When Tuba City, Ariz. native Josh Begay took his campus tour at the University of Idaho, the electrical engineering junior’s mother wasn’t so sure about her son being so far away. It was the campus tour that included the Native American Student Center, or NASC
, that changed her mind.
“It’s a home away from home,” says Begay, an enrolled Navajo. “I’m here studying all the time, pretty much every day. You’re really encouraged to be yourself here.”
A thousand miles from home, Begay has found his second home, which draws in native students from across the country, regionally and locally. There, they find multiple levels of support: academic, cultural and personal.
“All my friends are here, and we can talk about home,” says Brittney Salinas, an environmental science sophomore from Wellpinit, Wash. and enrolled Spokane member. “People here have had the same struggles in life, growing up on a reservation. They’re here to support you.”
The center provides a space on campus for Native American and any interested students to hang out, receive additional advising opportunities, and study. It also helps create a community to share cultural differences and similarities.
“There’s a broad range of cultures that come into the center, but we all have a common connection that makes it easy to feel at home,” says Sydel Samuels, director of the Native American Student Center and enrolled Nez Perce member and Cayuse and Walla Walla descendant. “We promote the culture they’d get at home, and we look familiar.”
The center also allows students from greater distances to connect with local students and communities to participate in events and traditions that they would otherwise miss. Conversely, students are encouraged to go into other communities during longer breaks, including a service-learning project in Hawaii
over spring break.
“The center is definitely a recruitment tool with all that we do,” says Samuels. “We build a great rapport with students and their families, and keep them connected.”
Recently hired center director, Samuels, an ’01 alumna of UI, is excited to bring her skills to the NASC, having previously worked introducing native high school students to the university and as a social worker for the Nez Perce Tribe, working with children, elders and victims of domestic violence.
Samuels jumped in quickly and prepared activities for Native American Heritage Month
in November and is working with students on class schedules for next semester.
The center offers more than a second home and a cultural and gathering space, it also provides secondary academic support through advising and providing computers and printers.
“It helps me with my grades, it’s not just a place to hang out,” says Sienna Reuben, an enrolled Nez Perce from Lapwai, Idaho. “The center really helps me be more productive, it’s like a way station during the day so I don’t have to go home and come back to campus.”
Reuben, an animal and veterinary science and business major, is taking full advantage of the center as the vice president of the Native American Student Association and is gaining leadership and planning skills. The group helps plan the Tutxinmepu Powwow
and collaborates with the English department
on the HooPalousa
basketball fundraiser in the spring, as well as smaller events throughout the year.
The center is also the home base and practice space for Vandal Nation, the drumming group that brings several cultures, traditions and songs together. The drummers are invited to sing and drum at many events on campus and in the community.