NEW TOWN Fort Berthold Community College will be in a position to train more home-grown students.
The college recently received approval to offer four-year degrees: a bachelor of science in elementary education with a minor in middle school science or mathematics, and a bachelor of science in environmental science and a bachelor of science in Native American studies.
Though the college has long offered two-year programs and has had students study for four-year degrees in the past, this is the first time students will be able to graduate with degrees specifically from the tribal college.
Submitted Photo - - Marc Bluestone, right, is the first Native American studies graduate in the two-year program. A four-year program has just been approved for fall.
Science faculty members Kerry Hartman, Tom Abe and Stacey Mortensen said they are happy about the approval of the environmental science program, which they said will open up so many career options for students on the reservation, particularly with the energy boom in the region. It has become evident in recent years that there was a demand for a four-year program.
Hartman, who achieved his Ph.D. in part, he said, so the college would be able to launch a four-year program, said graduates could work in such areas as energy development, environmental diversion, or for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and in many other areas. There are many young people on the reservation who are concerned about preserving the environment amid the economic boom, he said, and there is growth potential there as well.
Faculty members hope to see programs at the college keep expanding. They said the degree in elementary education program will help students at the college as well. For example, students will be able to complete their education at the college instead of having to take courses through other institutions or move to cities off the reservation to pursue degrees, said Anna Rubia, director of teacher education, and education faculty Bernadine Young Bird.
Schools on the reservation are in need of teachers from the community, they said. There is a housing shortage on the reservation, which makes it difficult for schools to bring in teachers from outside the community.
The program is standards-based and uses methods that focus on content education and science and mathematics courses, coupled with the cultural teachings of each tribe, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. Teachers graduating with a strong background in science and math will instinctively pass this on to children in schools.
Standardized test scores among American Indian children tend to lag for a variety of reasons, but Young Bird said there is nothing wrong with the abilities of children. Teachers who are strong in science and math will help children develop strong science and math skills.
The elementary education and environmental science degrees were launched in part with support of a National Science Foundation grant, which has provided tuition assistance to some of the students in the program.
The bachelor of Native American studies has also been in high demand on the reservation and there has also been a high level of interest from people outside North Dakota, said faculty members Alyce Spotted Bear, Crystal Hallam and Thomasina Mandan. Mandan said the goal is to have the first two years of the program available online and she'd eventually like to have the full program online.
The program will use new and existing courses at the college and focuses on different topics from an American Indian perspective. While there's an emphasis on the Three Affiliated Tribes, there's also a broader focus on other tribes. Native American studies graduates can work in a variety of areas, such as tribal government or different agencies that could benefit from an American Indian perspective.
Hallam and Mandan said the program already has its first graduate, New Town schools superintendent Marc Bluestone Sr. They were pleased to have such a distinguished graduate.
Facilities for the Native American Studies program at the college are being expanded and the college will also hire a new Native American studies instructor.
Although it is a tribal college, Fort Berthold Community College is open to non-tribal members as well, said president Russell Mason Jr., who said he'd been pushing the state for 20 years to provide tribal colleges with funding to help reimburse it for the education of non-tribal members.
State institutions receive funding from the state for its students, but tribal colleges have not received funding for non-tribal members. The Fort Berthold tribal council has recently agreed to help provide some funding to help offset the cost of educating non-tribal students, Mason said, adding the college benefits the region as a whole since it also is the only tribal college in the state that has a registered nurse program and educates nurses, which are in high demand and are crucial for the rural health care system.
Most of the tribal college's graduates stay in the state, Mason said, adding that the tribal college is also able to collaborate with universities and large companies. This is an exciting time for the college, he said.