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New Mexico State University program offers educational bridge for Native Americans

For Sarah Tsosie, the American Indian Bridges program has provided a chance to learn more about the languages of her people. For Keith Conway, it has provided access to resources he can use to enrich his creative writing. For Staci Haley, it has meant two good weeks of a computer programming course.

Bruce Lewis, an instructor at the Crownpoint Institute of Technology, Crownpoint, N.M., (left, standing), Gerald Danzuka, a student at Dine College, Shiprock, N.M.., and Sarah Tsosie, a student at the Crownpoint Institute, do Internet research on a project in New Mexico State University's department of anthropology and sociology. The three are participating in the Bridges Program for American Indians this summer. (NMSU photo by Meghan Dallin)

Tsosie, Conway and Haley are three of 21 students and teachers from four New Mexico Native American colleges -- Crownpoint Institute of Technology, Dine College, the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute -- attending classes or doing research at New Mexico State University this summer under the Bridges Program for American Indians in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

Since 1999, the university's College of Arts and Sciences has conducted the program, under a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Educational Foundation of America. The program's goal is to augment the education provided by the American Indian institutions and to attract some of the students to New Mexico State after they have finished work at those institutions, said Scott Rushforth, head of the university's department of sociology and anthropology and of the Bridges Program.

The university's chemistry department also has an American Indian Bridges Program.

The students receive a stipend, lodging and meals while attending one or both of two summer sessions, from May 22 to June 29 and from July 9 to Aug. 10. They also work with mentors from a number of Arts and Sciences departments.

While American Indian colleges have been successful in raising the number of American Indians who enter and graduate from higher education programs, they are chronically underfunded and most offer only two-year programs. The Kellogg Foundation hopes this program will serve as a "bridge" to mainstream institutions for interested American Indian students, a foundation brochure states.

Tsosie worked for several years in community services for the Navajo Nation and her previous college work at Crown Point Institute of Technology was in accounting. But for the past two years under the Bridges program, she has worked with Rushforth on research dealing with the Mescalero and Chiricahua Apache languages. Both are Athapascan languages, the same family of languages as Navajo. Tsosie said the research has whetted her interest in pursuing a bachelor's degree in linguistics.

"My goal would be to become a translator for Athapascan-speaking individuals," she said. "I've been before Congress talking about grant proposals. I would like to appear before it to talk about language preservation," she said.

Conway, a Blackfeet who has attended I.A.I.A., is a playwright. Currently writing about an incident in Blackfeet history called the Baker Massacre, he said he was amazed to discover that New Mexico State's library could obtain the entire Bureau of Indian Affairs record of the event through interlibrary loan.

"I'm excited about coming here. I feel that I'm more free to be myself and to pursue the projects I'm interested in," he said.

Haley, a Navajo and a computer science major at Crownpoint Institute, is one of six students attending the program who have announced they will transfer to New Mexico State.

"Within a matter of two weeks, I've learned more about computer programming than I ever did at my old school," she said.

Bruce Lewis, a math instructor at Crownpoint Institute who is taking a computer science course at New Mexico State, said one benefit of the program is that it gives faculty members at the Native American institutions a chance for professional development they might not otherwise be able to afford. He added that he has seen students' confidence grow as a result of the program.

"Our campus is very small and many students come there because they are more comfortable staying near their Native American friends. This lets them see they can be successful at a larger institution that has more to offer in terms of a higher education," he said.

The American Indian Bridges program will sponsor a reading and performance by members of the Native American Writers' Circle from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, June 25, in Corbett Center Room 218 and a luncheon to mark the end of the first summer session Thursday, June 28, in Corbett Center's Dona Ana Room.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/Bridges.jpg.
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