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By drawing on a variety of resources offered through 10 regional tribes and five universities and colleges, the Parfleche Exchange Program Strategic Innovations Initiative is providing valuable opportunities for students and faculty at the University of Idaho.

“We wanted a way to bring in indigenous knowledge, crafting a way we can share our values and knowledge with not only the University, but with surrounding higher education institutions,” says Arthur Taylor, University of Idaho tribal liaison and current leader of the initiative. A large component of the initiative is to retain Native American students at the University. One way, Taylor says, is to keep students connected to their home community while attending the University. In fact, he says it is vital for students to keep a relationship with their community and family, which will keep them from feeling isolated.

“We work with the tribal leaders to make sure we are providing them with the resources they need to help their students,” says Taylor. “We’re the conduit, the connection between the University and the tribal community.”

In addition to keeping that connection, the Native American Student Center created a program earlier this year that matches freshman and sophomore Native American students with juniors and seniors. Taylor says the program helps students become grounded and creates a family-like center at the University. In the fall, the match-up will blossom into a mentoring component to also help students academically.

In addition to building relationships between students, Taylor is working to help Native American students build relationships with faculty. Taylor says that while the University is a smaller campus, traditionally it is difficult for Native students to create a connection with faculty. Once those relationships are built, faculty mentors can help students while at the University and beyond.

“There are a lot of options out there we want our students to explore,” says Taylor.

As part of that initiative, a database is being created that will bring stronger partnerships between the classroom and indigenous knowledge. Taylor is hoping to pair classrooms with Native specialists who can come to campus and talk with classes or allow classes to come to them. He points to a good example in the College of Art and Architecture, where students learned about Native American architecture from Native Americans. The database will store names and contacts of experts who can be called upon.

“It’s a very valuable and resourceful tool to provide a different perspective to students; it offers a different knowledge base,” says Taylor.

Once approved, the database will be accessible by faculty and staff and will be updated as necessary.

Taylor is already looking ahead beyond the database, as its use grows, to create a Native curriculum by using regular visitors and increasing tribal knowledge on campus. His ultimate vision is to establish a Native American studies degree program.

Taylor also is working with faculty and administrators on an integrated curriculum, particularly for Native students who are interested in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or what is now being dubbed Indigenous STEM or ISTEM.

Also in the future, Taylor is working to highlight indigenous leadership and create a place where people can study Tribal policy, life and law.

Back to the nearer future though, Taylor is working with four other colleges and universities that are part of the Parfleche Exchange Program – Lewis-Clark State College, Washington State University, North Idaho College and Northwest Indian College – on an articulation agreement to allow associate degrees to transfer into the four-year colleges and universities. These partners also will be looking at how Native American courses transfer between the schools and work on building a degree from that.