A program to recruit and retain Native college students in South Dakota has won the Bush Prize for Community Innovation. The Wokini Initiative through South Dakota State University is one of five organizations in the region to receive funding.
Shana Harming is the Wokini and Tribal Relations Director at South Dakota State University. She says the focus of the Wokini Initiative is to increase the number of Native American graduates in the school. Part of that means recruiting Native students at home-which is what Wokini’s SDSU to You program does.
“It’s a whole group of folks from SDSU including people from financial aid, residential staff, American Indian Student Center and they’re able to take that program out to the tribal communities.”
Wokini was started about two years ago when SDSU reallocated land grant funds to support Native American students.
The initiative creates partnerships with tribal communities, Native students and families, tribal colleges and SDSU campus programs. Harming says that outreach builds a welcoming environment for Native students.
“We really need to work with our whole campus community as well as improve our partnerships with tribal and communities to ensure that recruitment and retention and increase graduation. It takes that collaborative and holistic effort.”
Harming says it’s still too soon to show hard data, but she’s seen significantly more Native students apply and get accepted to SDSU in that time.
“We have a really good framework and we have a lot of support and we have a lot of partners and I think we’re moving forward in a good way. And we know that things aren’t perfect and there's a lot more work to be done.”
She says the 500 thousand dollar Bush Prize will help maintain the Wokini Initiative and creating more programing.