Native Village Youth and Education News
January 1, 2009 Issue 193 Volume 2


Pinon, Ariz., students visit IU from their classroom

Video conference aids recruitment

Pinon, Ariz.: A group of high school students came for a college visit but never saw the flood of cars leaving the IU campus, the admissions building or toured the dorms. They never even set a foot in Indiana.

Instead of taking a plane, train or bus from Pinon High School in Pinon, Ariz., the students brought their entire classroom to a conference room in the School of Education through a video chat on Nov. 25.

“Here was a way to have the opportunity for them to talk to people,” said Lillian Casillas, the interim director of the First Nations Educational Cultural Center.

Long-distance learning was a chance for students living on an American Indian reservation to interact with a panel of college students who were also American Indian, she said.

“At the beginning they were shy, but they had really good and thought-out questions,” said junior Nathen Steininger, president of IU’s American Indian Student Association and a member of the panel.

The hardest part is the cultural differences, said graduate student and AISA treasurer Del Criscenzo. Going to college can be a culture shock for students who move from a reservation where they know everyone in their neighborhood to a college campus such as IU, where there is a low American Indian population, she said.

The Pinon students were surprised to learn there was only one pow-wow each year, and fry bread, a food served daily on the reservation, wasn’t served in the dining halls. Those are things they take for granted, and no one knows what those items are here, Criscenzo said.

Steininger said he thought there is a lack of understanding about American Indian culture, and the differences can make students stand out and feel alone. The panel allowed the high school students to build a connection with other American Indian students even before they apply.

American Indian students are often afraid of going to college because it means losing their identity, Steininger said. He said fear exists due to stories of their grandparents’ boarding school experiences. The boarding schools were miles from their families, and native languages and dress were not allowed and some native students encountered abuse.

“It was a stripping of culture,” Steininger said.

The panel encouraged involvement in American Indian student groups on campus to meet other native students.

“They could connect with college students and hear their firsthand experience,” Casillas said.

She gave a list of typical questions to the panel so they could be prepared, and almost every question on the list was asked. Questions included topics such as class size, scholarships, dorm life and extracurricular activities on campus.

FNECC hoped to schedule a second video chat between the Pinon High School students interested in IU and representatives of IU admissions.

“It gives us many, many opportunities across the country,” Casillas said. She wants to expand long distance learning to any high school, on American Indian reservations and off, who have the technology and capability for a video chat.

In 2007, the FNECC, AISA and the Native American Graduate Student Association brought a group of Navajo students to visit IU for a week. But cuts in funding made a 2008 visit not feasible. Long-distance learning was started after a brainstorm with a Pinon High School teacher who is an IU alumni.

Pinon High School had the camera available, so it happened quick with the connections we had, Criscenzo said.

“Do what you want to do,” Steininger told the Pinon High School students. “College is defiantly an option.”

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