Tahlequah Daily Press

June 18, 2013

Thriving on culture

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Northeastern State University began as the Cherokee Female Seminary and was established prior to statehood. It has a long and storied history ntertwined with the Cherokee Nation, and to this day, it offers degree programs and outreach opportunities for American Indians.

Kristen Snell-Thomas, former Miss Cherokee, NSU graduate and Cherokee Nation employee, is “on loan” to NSU, and works with a number of academic programs at the university.

“I am program coordinator for Cherokee Nation programs, the Cherokee Promise Scholarship and Cherokee Language Scholarship, and I provide support for the Cherokee Education degree program,” said Snell-Thomas. “Education programs that fall under my purview include the bachelor of arts degree in Cherokee Education and the bachelor of arts degree in Cherokee Cultural Studies.”

The Cherokee Promise Scholarship provides an opportunity for Cherokee students to earns their undergraduate degrees while creating lifelong professional relationships and increasing Cherokee identity, said Thomas.

Right now, 72 students are involved in the program, which is considered a “cohort program” – meaning the students are involved in a living learning community. The scholars study together, live together and often play together.

Cherokee Promise Scholars receive a $2,000 educational scholarship and a $1,000 housing scholarship per semester. The scholarships are funded by multiple sources, including the Cherokee Nation Foundation, Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act and the CRC.

Recipients must be Cherokee citizens, live within the nation’s jurisdiction and meet requirements for tuition and housing assistance. Recipients must have a cumulative grade-point average of 2.7, participate in the tribal Self-Help Program and live on campus.

Snell-Thomas said Cherokee educational programs are gaining popularity.

“Between Cherokee Education and Cherokee Cultural Studies, the Cherokee Language Program has 27 majors,” said Snell-Thomas. “Most students in these programs are Cherokee, but also include United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, Choctaw, Creeks and non-Indians.”

While Snell-Thomas’ programs are either academic or CN scholarship programs, a new service center, the Indigenous Scholar Development Center, has been added at NSU to provide other services.

“The Indigenous Scholar Development Center had its beginnings at NSU’s Center for Tribal Studies,” said ISDC Director Jennifer McCann. “Former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller was a visiting scholar at the time, and wrote a letter to then-President Dr. Don Betz, proposing an indigenous learning center. This program was formed by that vision.”

According to McCann, ISDC, located on the second floor of NSU’s John Vaughan Library, provides American Indian students direct services, and came about through a collaborative proposal.

“We received a grant for Native American services in non-tribal institutions through the U.S. Department of Education Title 3 program, and received funding in September 2011,” said McCann. “I started on June 4, 2012, as director.”


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