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Teleservices: Making Listening and Spoken Language Services More Accessible to Families

Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech provides children who are deaf or hard of hearing with the listening, learning and spoken language skills they need to succeed. Annually, nearly 1,000 children and their families benefit from programs and services at locations throughout the East Coast. But our reach goes beyond our physical locations.

Clarke’s tVISIT (teleservices Virtual Intervention Services for Infants and Toddlers) Program makes it possible for families to receive life-changing services from teachers of the deaf, speech-language pathologists and early childhood specialists—at home.

Young girl in red dress

This has been a game changer for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, like six-year-old Alison. Her mom, Sara, who struggled to find local listening and spoken language support, explains:

“Clarke has shown us that with hard work and access to resources, children can excel in listening and spoken language. Clarke came into our home weekly via teleservices from the time Alison was implanted [with cochlear implants] until she was three years old. Clarke has been such an integral part of our journey and Alison’s success.”

Sara is not alone in her experience: 97 percent of caregivers in Clarke’s teleservices program say it makes Clarke services more accessible to their family, and 93 percent report it has increased their confidence in their ability to help their child.

“Clarke has shown us that with hard work and access to resources, children who are deaf or hard of hearing can excel in listening and spoken language,” shares Sara. “They can be mainstreamed and learn alongside their hearing peers. Our children are simply differently abled, not disabled.”

Throughout their tVISIT sessions, Alison and her family worked with Jeana Novak, MA, MED, LSLS Cert AVEd, Coordinator of the Early Intervention Program at Clarke Philadelphia, who is shown in the photo above.

“Miss Jeana was able to model strategies for us in the beginning to use in everyday life,” notes Sara. “She encouraged us when progress seemed slow and celebrated with us when new milestones were reached. As Alison began to excel with her implants, Miss Jeana knew how to challenge her without frustrating her.”

Today, Alison loves playing t-ball and doing cartwheels. She is proudly attending a mainstream school and dreams of being a “mommy construction worker” when she grows up!

From July 2018 through June 2019, Clarke led more than 1,500 tVISIT sessions with families. This broad reach and progress like Alison’s is not possible without support from donors and funders like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. This funding is vital in helping Clarke professionals provide services to more families.

Cindy Goldberg is the Chief Development Officer for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech. She’s dedicated her career to helping children and communities thrive through strategic fundraising efforts. 

We All Contribute to Mentoring and Caring for Students

This article first appeared on the website of the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the Suder Foundation.

 

Working with students who are first in their families to attend college is a privilege. I have been one of these fortunate individuals for nearly 14 years at the University of Florida. I believe every college and university should have full-time professionals, in student affairs or elsewhere, dedicated to advancing access and success for this underserved population.

Beyond those of us with formal student affairs training, there are a myriad of campus professionals who can and do support first-generation students. I had the honor of sitting down with two such professionals at UF, one a custodial associate director and the other, an assistant professor. I doubt the two would ever have crossed professional paths had it not been for this conversation. Something special happened during that hour over coffee. They revealed important insight about the linkage of passion and action. I offer edited excerpts from our conversation to encourage you to expand your view of what it means to maximize employee talent to achieve what we’re all ultimately here to do – mentor and care for students.

Tanya Hughes, Associate Director, Building Services: There’s not a check-box on my job description that says I need to mentor students. But so much of my job is mentoring students. Nobody wants to do the hard work that we do: clean toilets, scrub floors, wash windows. But our work is student success. Clean spaces promote learning and achievement. I also empower my team to bond with students. They know how to refer to resources when we sense students are struggling. Parents trust us to keep an eye on their kids and we take that responsibility seriously. Yes, we’re here to clean, but we’re also here to connect and care for students. Not everyone on campus understands the vital role we play in student success, but I do and my team does. We are humble; we don’t boast. But I feel pretty sure that my custodial team has saved student lives. I definitely know we’ve impacted them. That’s what matters.

Dr. Jaime Ruiz, Assistant Professor, Computer & Information Science & Engineering: I agree with Tanya; I love mentoring students. I also feel fortunate that my department supports me in this endeavor. In higher education, “doing diversity work” is talked about as important, but sometimes it’s all lip service, and action rarely or never happens. In my department, diversity work isn’t merely lip service; we take action.

Dr. Jaime Ruiz, third from left, with his research team
Dr. Jaime Ruiz, third from left, with his research team

I hire only first-generation students to work in my research lab. They are incredibly bright students who struggle at first with imposter syndrome (the feeling that they’re not as competent as others perceive them to be) but the more success they experience and the more rapport we build, they thrive. I enjoy modeling for them the importance of striking a balance in college between having a good time and focusing on their studies. I wish some of my colleagues were able to strike a balance for themselves. It’s sad to me that according to research and my own observations, job satisfaction diminishes after a faculty member earns tenure. Mentoring students is the most satisfying part of my job and as I actively work towards tenure myself, I model and remind myself of that important balance. I try to live what I teach.

Jaime: I learned about UF’s commitment to first-generation students when I attended New Faculty Orientation in 2016. When I decided I’d hire only first-generation students in my lab, not only was I overwhelmed by the number of students interested in the positions, I was also overwhelmed by how to decide among so many outstanding, high-quality students. I had the expectation that first-generation students would be strong students. However, the applications didn’t just represent strong students but some of the best students UF has to offer. Knowing I had only two positions, I immediately began sharing the applications with colleagues in hopes that I could place more students with research mentors.

Tanya Hughes with a staff member.
Tanya Hughes with a staff member.

As a faculty member, I realize some first-generation students may be intimidated initially but with our monthly social activities and the way I try to empower them [in my lab], I think they quickly come to see that I’m in their corner. I have provided first-generation students with research opportunities, and they have helped me advance my research.

Tanya: I have so much passion for custodial work, and it’s important to me that our halls are clean for students and their families. I sent my son to college and I fought the urge to scrub his room and bathroom. You either have a passion, or you don’t. As a supervisor for the past few decades, I seek to hire those that display a passion for this work.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Building a university culture of mentoring and supporting students should encourage all professionals, no matter their role, to infuse passion for students into their work. Maybe we need teams of professionals dedicated to talent management and student success who create engaging opportunities to build this campus-wide culture. Maybe we need to listen more deeply to students and consider their holistic experience as a student on our campus. Perhaps just talking to talented colleagues who “get it” like Tanya and Jaime are a start. When we come together, sometimes over coffee, it’s amazing how we’re reminded of the tremendous impact that we can achieve together. I’m proud to work in concert with both Tanya and Jaime, as well as many others at the University of Florida for whose university contributions and passion for students are one in the same. Go Gators!

To learn more about first-generation student initiatives at UF, visit: firstgeneration.ufsa.ufl.edu/.

Dr. Leslie Pendleton is the Senior Director of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Florida. During her tenure at UF, Leslie has led the effort to champion first-generation, low-income college students and in 2009, was named the inaugural director of the now nationally-recognized MFOS program. 

Striking Out Stigma – Seeing Learning Disabilities as Simple Learning Differences

Middle school is often a time of exploring and expressing one’s individuality and autonomy. However, peers, teachers, and families begin playing a pivotal role in identity development. For students who learn differently, social pressures are often compounded by a sense of isolation resulting from stigma. The stigma surrounding learning disabilities and attention disorders can keep many students from seeking the tools they need to be successful.

Ryan Blackwell wearing Eye To Eye shirt

Ryan, a current high schooler at AIM Academy, recounted his middle school struggles with ADHD. He found it impossible to keep up.

 “It was in fourth-grade that I realized that something wasn’t right,” Ryan shared. “I would get assignments, and I would just leave them for weeks because I didn’t understand and I didn’t want to go ask my teachers for help.”

 Even though his grades were slipping dramatically, Ryan was still too embarrassed to ask for help. Ryan’s uneasiness about reaching out came from misconceptions that students who learn differently are often confronted with.

Research measuring public perceptions of learning differences revealed that half of the general population, including a third of educators, believe that learning disabilities are actually laziness (Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, 2010). Several more studies took those perceptions a step further and demonstrated that the stigma associated with learning disabilities and attention disorders adversely affects educational expectations, academic outcomes, and emotional wellbeing (Crosnoe, Riegle-Crumb, & Muller, 2007; Shifrer, 2013; Al-Yagon, 2015; Feurer & Andrews, 2009; Lackaye, Margalit, Ziv, & Ziman, 2006; Maag & Behrens, 1989; Margalit, 1991; Margalit & Raviv, 1984; Wiener & Daniels, 2016).

When Ryan entered AIM Academy, he discovered Eye to Eye – a mentoring program working to eliminate the stigma of learning disabilities and attention disorders by reframing and celebrating them instead as learning differences. The program pairs students who learn differently in middle school with their high school and college-aged counterparts. Ryan was hesitant to join.

“I was like, ‘I can’t do that,’ because for some reason I couldn’t see myself impacting kids’ lives.” Despite his doubts, Ryan gave mentoring a shot.

“A lot of the kids that I would mentor suffered bullying because of their [learning disabilities] and ADHD. They were bullied a lot for the fact that they didn’t learn like everybody else, that they couldn’t interact the same way, and that they couldn’t impact the classroom and the atmosphere that’s in that classroom.”

He decided to share his own story with the mentees and become a shoulder for them to lean on.

Three students wearing Eye To Eye shirts

“I wasn’t able to see it at first, but every time they’d see me the next week they’d say two words: ‘thank you.’ I would think, ‘Thank you? I didn’t do anything,'” he said, recalling his surprise at their gratitude.

However, his school chapter advisor assured him the difference he made was immeasurable. For children and adults who learn differently, the path towards self-acceptance starts with breaking stigma at the individual level. Once someone knows they are in the company of another person who learns differently, they can begin to break down their self-stigma and share their own experiences with others. And when someone shares their story, they become empowered. Empowered individuals inspire positive feedback, and that feedback fosters a supportive community.

Ryan admitted, “When that kid just kept saying thank you, I found myself going home and crying because there is a greater community even outside of the one that we have at Eye to Eye.”

This month, Eye to Eye is celebrating “Strike Out Stigmonth.” The month-long friendly competition between Eye to Eye chapters nationwide is designed to spread awareness, strengthen bonds between mentors and mentees, and connect participants to the local and national Eye to Eye community of supporters and allies. Follow Eye to Eye on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to view the stigma-busting competition. To learn more about Eye to Eye, please visit www.eyetoeyenational.org.

David Flink is a social movement leader on the front lines of the learning rights movement. He imagines a world where one day all learners will be seen, heard and valued. Being diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD at a young age, he later committed his life to students with learning differences. He serves as Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye.

FAMU’s CeDAR Office Empowers Students with Disabilities to Take Charge of Their Education

The following item first appeared in The Famuan.

The Center for Disability Access and Resources (CeDAR) is positioned to aid students with learning, psychological and physical disabilities.

CeDAR is a resource center to provide support-programs and reasonable accommodations to students who seek help to broaden their skills and to gain personal, academic and professional development.

There are currently more than 600 students who are registered with the CeDAR office. The center administers service to the main campus as well as satellite campuses.

The program director, Deborah Sullivan, is an advocate for students.

“Our mission is to provide enriching support programs, services and reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. We also try to foster a sense of empowerment by educating them about their legal rights and responsibilities. We want them to make informed choices, be critical thinkers and self-advocate, and then we want to make sure our students have the same access to programs, opportunities and activities available to any other student at Florida A&M University,” she said.

I’m a student who was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and a learning disability for math. I never was incapable of learning material that other students had learned, I just tend to learn, process and perform at my own gradual pace, as opposed to the average student who performs at a faster rate.

A-Chai'a Jackson
A-Chai’a Jackson

Tia Huie, a registered CeDAR student and work-study facilitator at the center, shared her perspective.

“I feel like the center has an impact on me because, at first, I was not a CeDAR student. You have those students who have learning disabilities and when you think about how hard and time-consuming college work can be, to have a place that helps them through the process is empowering,” she said.

This is inclusive too: extra time on tests, transport mobility, different testing locations, tape recordings, tutoring and other support services.

The CeDAR office has done a persistent, commendable job in assisting me; from providing a safe space, extra time on tests, free printing, computer usage, and accommodating me with letters to inform my professors about my academic needs.

The program outreach coordinator, Joshua Lowder, gave more insight on what his duties are as it pertains to assisting registered CeDAR students.

“I work here as the program outreach coordinator, and what I do is work with incoming freshmen and also work with sophomores that are here from the College Study Skills Institute (CSSI), and how I help them is I plan different activities and also help plan things around what CeDAR does, in terms of student game nights or student engagement and I try to also work on community pieces to help us bridge the gap and let people know we are here at the university to help students who may have learning, physical, psychological, cognitive or mental disabilities,” he said.

A-Chai’a Jackson of Bushnell, Florida, is a third-year broadcast journalism major at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). He is a registered CeDAR student with a learning disability who serves as Mr. Transfer Student Association (TSA), a staff writer for the FAMUAN and a staff writer and copy editor for FAMU Journey Magazine.

New Name, Same Career Focus for Program Preparing Visually Impaired Students for Workforce

As the grant writer at VIA, formerly Olmsted Center for Sight, I know that our greatest reward comes from helping people achieve independent, prosperous lives. Partners like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation have helped us make this a reality for nearly 700 graduates of our vocational training program formerly known as the Statler Center.

In our 20th year of providing career training for blind, visually or otherwise disabled students from across the U.S., VIA helps our students achieve financial independence by offering comprehensive job training in hospitality, food preparation, customer service, telecommunications, and general business fundamentals through both face-to-face and online classes. Through this training, graduates can embark on long-lasting, rewarding careers that empower them to live independently and experience meaningful career success.

Consider the recent success of a Johnson Scholarship recipient, Rebecca Grayson of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both blind and dyslexic, Rebecca became an online student in her late 20s. As part of her oral communication training, Rebecca had to pick a job posting and practice interviewing for the position. Rebecca did so well in her mock interview that she decided to take the plunge and actually interview for the job. She was offered the position and began work as a doctor’s office assistant.

Statler Center staff member Ray Zylinski teaches Job Access With Speech (JAWS) to a blind student from New York.
Statler Center staff member Ray Zylinski teaches Job Access With Speech (JAWS) to a blind student from New York.

Rebecca loves her job and is thankful for the online class that gave her the skills and confidence to become ready to work. As she recently told us, “I am doing great and am really enjoying my job. Thank you again to the Statler Center and Johnson Scholarship for this opportunity!”

Job placement is the primary means by which we measure program success. Nationally, approximately three-quarters of the blind and visually impaired are unemployed, earning two-thirds less on average compared to their non-disabled co-workers. In contrast, approximately three-quarters of VIA’s nearly 700 graduates are currently employed with an average starting wage of $12.68 per hour, significantly higher than the federal minimum wage.

To prepare our students to be successful in their job search and placement journey, we emphasize that investing the right amount of time, self-reflection, and energy into a job search is essential to find a rewarding job. We tell students that each person is a unique puzzle piece. The sides of your puzzle piece are your individual qualifications, skills, strengths, coupled with your ideal location, hours, schedule, and work setting. For you to be successful at work, the company culture must fit you. Past experiences can help you figure what you like and why, and just as importantly what you DON’T like and why. Not everyone is perfect for every job. If you hate being outside and sweating, well then, working in landscaping is definitely not the right job for you. But we all belong somewhere. Once you are honest with yourself about your skills, strengths, and qualifications, you need to find that puzzle looking for one special unique missing puzzle piece – YOU!

Interviews are your first face-to-face experience with a company, and it is true – You only have one chance to make a first impression! Almost all communication (93%) is nonverbal so your gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, and posture are often more important than what you say. The key to answering those difficult interview questions is to positively promote yourself. You need to reframe your answers into “I can if” statements. This reframing builds confidence, which all job seekers need, but especially job seekers with disabilities.

Once offered the job, we teach job seekers how to discuss accommodations and self-advocate. We teach our students to say “My disability is NOT a weakness.” A screen reader is not different than reading glasses used by other applicants. It’s simply a tool that you need for success at work. Working closely with applicants and companies, we help them to understand reasonable accommodations and negotiate logistics like who will cover the cost, how long it will take to install, who installs it, and what is looks like, among other things. Once employers become familiar with the accommodations that our graduates need for success, they are comfortable and ready to get their new employees on board.

By funding education, peer support, on-the-job work experience, access to assistive technology, vocational rehabilitation services, and mentoring, Johnson Scholarship Foundation is giving VIA graduates the skills to succeed!

Becky Landy is a grant writer who comes to VIA with a broad background at not-for-profits, higher education, and corporate marketing. She has taught business communication at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. She has an undergraduate degree from Colgate University and an MBA from Clarkson University. She is a passionate writer who enjoys helping the blind and visually impaired start on their journey to financial independence and a fulfilling life.

Robert A. Krause Named New CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has named entrepreneur Robert A. Krause the Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, effective May 1. He was selected after a national search for the successor to R. Malcolm Macleod, who is retiring from the position.

Wine Industry Scholarship Program Provides Opportunities for First-Generation Students

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation and Sonoma State University (SSU) are partnering to support an innovative scholarship program focused on first-generation, low-income students whose families are connected to the wine industry. SSU is located in the heart of California’s premier wine region and serves approximately 9,300 students annually. Approximately 30 percent of SSU students are first-generation, low-income, or from underserved populations. Given the location of our campus, many of these students have family members employed by wineries.

Large group of students in front of the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University
Students in the Summer Bridge orientation program pose for a photo in front of the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University. SSU hosts Summer Bridge for first-generation low-income students in the summer prior to their first year on campus.

Given the wine industry’s interest in supporting the children of employees— as well as educating the future workforce —SSU’s Wine Business Institute started the Wine Industry Scholarship Program (WISP) in 2016. WISP is designed to attract financial support for first-generation, low-income students who have family ties to the wine industry. WISP scholarship recipients do not need to be pursing wine business as a major: they simply need to have a family member who is employed in the wine industry, for example a vineyard worker or cellar staff member.

The Wine Industry Scholarship Program has expanded to attract financial support for SSU’s academic and career services for first-generation, low-income students. The additional advisors and programs created by WISP now serve nearly 2,000 students each year, in addition to the students who receive WISP scholarships.

WISP began as a program offering students $2,500 scholarships that are renewable for up to four years ($10,000 total). Thanks to the generosity of SSU’s winery partners, SSU quickly secured commitments from some of the industry’s largest names, including Korbel, Rodney Strong, and Wine.com. SSU’s first cohort of WISP scholars in 2017 featured 15 students, with 27 WISP scholarships awarded in 2018 and an additional 27 in 2019. To date, SSU has awarded WISP scholarships to 69 students for a total of nearly $700,000 in scholarship support in just three years!

Sonoma State University Logo

The guidance and financial support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) has inspired SSU to grow its ambitions for how the campus can assist first-generation, low-income students. SSU is currently laying the groundwork for a much larger fundraising effort that will create a WISP scholarship endowment and bring in significant additional funds to enhance our overall support for the students who need it most.

SSU is grateful to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for its commitment to provide 10 WISP scholarship matching gifts in 2020 and 2021. JSF is also providing a match commitment for WISP endowment gifts in subsequent years. SSU anticipates another remarkable program transformation as a result of this new fundraising effort, on the scale of the one that has taken place in the last two years. SSU looks forward to securing scholarship funds and program support that will benefit SSU students for generations to come.

Khou Yang-Vigil is the Educational Opportunity Program Coordinator and Professional Academic Advisor at Sonoma State University.

Science Confirms It: Best Practice Instruction Can Rewire the Brain’s Ability to Learn

Recently a grandfather of a student who attended Groves Academy for six years sent a note thanking the school for its supportive classroom instruction that he felt greatly contributed to his grandson’s successful transition to a public school. He mentioned in his note that Groves’ teaching process seemed to re-wire a part of his grandson’s brain, positively impacting his ability to learn, understand and enjoy classroom instruction.

Two girls with markers working at a table

Science confirms what this grandfather observed. With evidence-based, best practice instruction the brain’s neural pathways can be re-wired to influence a person’s ability to learn. This is called brain plasticity. Research also strongly supports the positive influence of brain plasticity on those with a learning disability or attention issues. Groves Academy meets its mission of providing transformative learning experiences to children with dyslexia, ADHD or other executive functioning challenges through its consistent use of evidence-based research, including what we know of the brain’s plasticity.

We recognize that children with learning disabilities are equipped and capable of reaching their full potential both in and out of the classroom. We extend this belief beyond our school through our Learning Center which provides diagnostic services to Groves’ students and to children throughout the Twin Cities community.

Teacher and four students working at a desk

In 2016, Groves launched a new initiative to bring our proven literacy instruction to K-3 classrooms across the Twin Cities Metro area. With the success of training and coaching an increasing numbers of teachers to deliver evidence-based literacy instruction came the realization that the academic needs of children with a learning disability were not being met. This is a reality that Groves cannot walk away from, but we also know that creating a solution will take commitment and collaboration from both us and our partner schools.

As a start, we now provide our diagnostic services to the low-income children identified by our partner schools as needing additional support. We are grateful to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for supporting this much needed service. Groves holds as its vision to redefine the way our nation is taught, one student, one teacher and one school at a time. It is a vision that acts as our compass as we work towards bringing true equity to the education of children with learning disabilities. Equity that brings the best of what research is telling us and applies it individually to each child so that they recognize their strengths in being successful in the classroom and beyond.

Lynn Giovannelli is Director of Advancement at Groves Academy, a 501c3 educational institution. Its school is focused on building confidence, success and purpose for over 280 students with learning disabilities. The Learning Center extends Groves’ mission to children and families who do not attend the school by offering diagnostic testing, tutoring, speech services and summer programming. The Institute for Professional Learning shares Groves’ evidence-based literacy instruction with elementary schools in the community to help close the literacy achievement gap.

College Tours Give Students a Taste of the Higher Education Experience

Recently, the Johnson Scholars Program of the School District of Palm Beach County in collaboration with Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County (jointly known as the JSTSIC Program) facilitated college tours to three colleges. Students were able to choose one of two trips: A local tour and research presentation at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton or a trip to Orlando that included both Valencia College-East Campus and University of Central Florida.

Group of 6 students in front of I love FAU sign

College tours are one of several components of the JSTSIC program that serves more than 400 students throughout Palm Beach County each year. Students in the program are mentored from 9th grade through high school graduation by a community mentor. Each has access to college coaches throughout high school as well, and each receives a two-year Florida Prepaid scholarship.

The college tours help our students have tangible contact with the college experience, increasing their motivation toward achieving post-secondary success. On the recent tours, each school showcased programs and support services specific to each institution, and our students were able to see college life as they moved throughout the campuses.

Young man working at a computer

Florida Atlantic University showcased an engaging research initiative in which students learned how to research from their freshman year. They learned how to research areas of interest in which they would like to invest. They were able to see the campus during Homecoming as the campus was preparing for the night’s homecoming game.

University of Central Florida, also in the middle of their homecoming week, allowed our students to see college students participate in their annual “fountain run, known as Spirit Splash where students run into the Reflecting Pond and collect rubber duckies. Besides the fun they got an informative look at the overall campus, which included support systems and programs offered by UCF.

Large group of students holding Valencia College banners

Valencia College showcased a few unique programs offered to its students. Officials explained to our students that graduates of Valencia are automatically accepted into UCF. The two schools’ programs are linked, which helps students to transfer smoothly from state college into the university system. Valencia showcased its Fire and Rescue Department and Agricultural Science Department, and students saw a presentation in Graphic Interactive Design.

Gbolade George was educated in the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, and he has worked in the district for 21 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral disorders in education from the University of South Florida. He is in his third year as resource teacher and mentor facilitator for the Johnson Scholars Program.

American Indian Business Leaders Blaze a Trail to the Future with New Advisory Board

There’s an adage about having a direction that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

A couple years ago, the American Indian Business Leaders, with the assistance of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, spent some time examining where we wanted to go – and how to get there.

The American Indian Business Leaders was founded in 1994 with the mission of empowering Indigenous business students in the United States to foster economic improvement in Native American communities. We’ve grown from one chapter at the University of Montana at Missoula to 120 chapters at universities, tribal colleges, and high schools with more than 250 tribal nations represented. With 2019 marking our 25th anniversary, it was an appropriate time to evaluate where the next 25 years would take us.

Young man wearing Indigenous Entrepreneur shirt

Through about a year of analysis and planning with input from respected leaders throughout Indian Country, AIBL learned what programs were most successful, and also, which ones needed improvement. Specifically, we realized that we could only guess at how to prepare our students to participate in corporate America because we didn’t know what attributes corporate America needed.

We’re excited that in the future, AIBL will get those answers straight from the executives themselves. AIBL is building a new advisory board with representatives from many of America’s best known corporations. We expect to hold the first meeting in the first quarter of 2020.

We anticipate having 8-10 members on the advisory board, and I’m happy to share that it will include Sam McCracken, general manager for Nike N7, Nike’s product line that supports the N7 Fund to provide sport and physical activity programming to kids in Native American and Aboriginal communities. Longtime AIBL supporter Trina Finley Ponce, the diversity and inclusion program manager at HP, also has agreed to join the board along with Micah Highwalking, senior operations manager at Dr. Pepper.

Two men on stage in front of American Indigenous Business Leaders logo

In addition to advising us on corporate culture, the advisory board will help us cultivate relationships with corporate America that can benefit our students in numerous ways. We’ll be using them as a sounding board to learn what kinds of skills we should be helping our students develop. That feedback is important as we prepare our students to work in corporate America. We also know it’s important to hear from people in a diverse range of businesses as each business and industry has its own corporate culture.

We also anticipate that the advisory board will act as a bridge to greater diversity for corporations wanting to be inclusive of Native Americans and our culture.

We at AIBL are proud of our first 25 years supporting Indigenous business students. We look forward to a future with even greater opportunities.

Prairie Bighorn Blount is the executive director of American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL). She grew up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in eastern Montana and is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe. Before joining the AIBL organization, she worked in Washington, D.C., providing contract management services to help support economic development within American Indian communities.