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Native Students Connect with UW in Summer Institute

June 16, 2017
three boys and two girls wearing three D glasses in a special room
From left, participants in UW’s Native American Summer Institute enjoy an activity in UW’s Shell 3-D Visualization Center. From left are Kale Ferris, of St. Stephens High School, and Laramie High School students Esai Jaime, Hudda Herrera, Journey Lebeau and Talissa Littlesun-Russell. Wearing 3-D glasses, the students observed how water molecules act, as the four screens around them projected a 3-D water molecule that was “floating” in front of them. (UW Photo)

When Reinette Tendore graduated from Wyoming Indian High School, she knew little about the University of Wyoming. She wishes she had known more.

Now, with two degrees from UW and a son who is in high school, Tendore is leading a new effort to help young people from the Wind River Indian Reservation, and other Native American students, become acquainted with Wyoming’s university -- and encourage them to attend college.

Tendore is the coordinator of UW’s inaugural Native American Summer Institute, which has brought 28 Native students to campus for a week of activities focused on college preparation; academic, career and cultural exploration; personal and community development; and recreational and other activities. The students are staying in UW’s residence halls, with supervision and guidance from UW faculty and staff members, along with leaders from the Wind River reservation.

The institute continues through Saturday morning, with students participating in academic presentations, field trips, outdoors excursions, cultural events and other activities.

“I never had the opportunity to come to UW for this type of college experience,” says Tendore, who just completed a master’s degree in social work from UW. “If I had known more about UW in high school, I think I would have come here right after graduation, because it’s a great university, and it’s not far from home.”

Tendore graduated from Wyoming Indian in 2000 but didn’t come to UW until later, earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2009. She now lives in Laramie with husband Lee and their children, including a son who will be a junior at Laramie High School this fall.

“We love Laramie,” says Tendore, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe who eventually plans to return to the Wind River reservation. “It’s exciting to have this program to show Native students what college is like and why UW is a great place to go to college.”

woman and young man examining small computer card
Wyoming Indian High School student Jayce Old Coyote, left, works with UW student assistant Merritt Singley during an engineering workshop which allows students to code music and monitor the environment with a small, single-board computer designed to teach computer science. The workshop was part of this week’s Native American Summer Institute at UW. (UW Photo)

The summer institute participants have experienced a wide cross-section of UW’s academic offerings, including activities on the science of growing food; creative writing; computer science and engineering; health care careers; physics and chemistry; theater and dance; visual arts; animal genetics; and astronomy. Field trips have included chipmunk research at Vedauwoo, the Wyoming Infrared Observatory on Jelm Mountain, and UW Outdoor Program activities at Curt Gowdy State Park.

For incoming seniors Vonnie Capitan of Wind River High School and Jayce Old Coyote of Wyoming Indian, the engineering and computer programming activities -- which included the use of raspberry pis, small computers on cards that are similar to an Intel processor -- were most engaging. The activities explored use of the devices for climate study, robotics and other applications.

“It has been fun to see a lot of things and learn more about what this place is like,” says Capitan, who plans to begin her post-high school studies at Central Wyoming College in 2018. “The university is a good place to come to get an education.”

“This is a great place -- an awesome learning environment,” says Old Coyote, an avid UW football fan who would like to play college football himself. “It has been fun to be here to challenge myself, experience new things and talk to new people.”

Cultural activities have included visiting the UW Art Museum; a cedaring ceremony by tribal elders; and a performance and presentation by the Eagle Spirit Dancers from the Wind River reservation.

“It was great for us to share our culture with non-Natives,” Tendore says. “Our culture is very important to us, and we have made that an important part of this experience.”

Tendore explains that Native students sometimes struggle when they first come to UW because of the distance from their families and culture.

young man and young woman looking at square container
St. Stephens High School student Trenton Friday, left, and MacKenzie Shakespeare, of Lander Valley High School, see what happens when they place a balloon in liquid nitrogen during a chemistry workshop of the UW Native American Summer Institute. Students experimented with liquid nitrogen, the flammability of different gases and chemical reactions. (UW Photo)

“It’s hard when you come from a place where people are just like you and go to a place where you’re exposed to many different cultures. We all call it culture shock,” she says. “Because of that unique situation, our students need extra support, and the summer institute is part of that support system.”

In her first year at UW, President Laurie Nichols has made it a priority to connect with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, including several trips to the Wind River reservation. Under her leadership, the university aims to increase its enrollment and graduation of Native American students, while increasing interactions with both tribes.

Part of the effort is the opening of a Native American Center this summer in the former home of the UW Honors Program at 10th and Ivinson streets. Classes, lectures, research, performances, exhibitions, meetings, collaborative work, traditional meals and traditions of Native peoples will be celebrated in the facility.

“Everybody is really excited about it,” Tendore says. “It’s nice knowing that the Native kids who come to UW will have a place to go for support and community.”

Meanwhile, plans call for the Native American Summer Institute to be an annual event, with support from dozens of units on campus.

One of the institute’s peer mentors, Antonia “Toni” Valdez, a UW elementary education senior from Ethete, says she, like Tendore, wishes a similar program had existed when she graduated from Wyoming Indian.

“I would have done this if I was in high school,” she says. “The students are getting to experience things they never realized before. It seems to really be opening their eyes.”

Participants in the Native American Summer Institute, listed by high school, are:

Wyoming Indian High School -- Halle Robinson, Elizabeth Valdez, Shyloh Underwood, Rhaelle Curry, Britney Bennett, Jocelia Her Many Horses and Jayce Old Coyote.

Lander Valley High School -- Taylee Dresser, MacKenzie Shakespeare, Shaylissa Bald Eagle, Elk Redman and Martin Brown.

St. Stephens High School -- Jade Bell, Echo Oldman, Kale Ferris, Trenton Friday, Steven Antelope and Patton Teran.

Riverton High School -- Alessa Brown, Leighanna Shoulderblade and Miracle Seminole.

Wind River High School -- Vonnie Capitan.

Laramie High School -- Chet Russell, Esai Jaime, Journey Lebeau, Talissa Littlesun-Russell, Hudda Herrera and Jacob Lebeau.


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Chad Baldwin

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