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Fostering College and Career Readiness in Native American Students

For Native American Heritage Month, ACT is pleased to feature student voices from the Virginia Tribal Education Consortium (VTEC) Native Youth Community Project (NYCP). VTEC is dedicated to serving Indigenous youth by addressing the college and career readiness needs of Native high school students nationwide. ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning and VTEC have worked together to eliminate barriers to academic support in Virginia's Tribal Nations through the Forward Academy – a set of programs and supports for college and career awareness, preparation, engagement, and success among students and their parents – and ACT’s American College Application Campaign (ACAC), which provides training for high schools hosting college application events, with a focus on first-generation college students and students from low-income families.

What are your education and career aspirations?

Atlas Savage, senior, Buckingham County High School, Virginia; Monacan Indian Nation:
I plan to go to college for a degree in American Indian Studies. I hope to find a job advocating for Indigenous peoples and tribes in the U.S.

Dean Badamo, senior, Patchogue-Medford High School, New York; Nansemond Indian Nation:
My plan is to earn a degree in culinary arts and food and beverage management, possibly with a concentration in entrepreneurship. I would like to work for a few years in the profession in order to gain enough experience to own and operate my own establishment.

Katheryn Hopson, senior, homeschool/dual enrollment, Northeast State Community College, Tennessee; Monacan Indian Nation: I plan on going into the medical field; however, I have not settled on an exact field of study yet. No matter what field I go into, I hope to excel at what I do, but moreover, I want to love what I do.

Tristan Everheart, senior, Corona Del Mar High School, California; Pamunkey Indian Tribe: I plan to go to a four-year college to get a degree in civil or environmental engineering. I hope to become an engineer, possibly working in the renewable energy field or in agricultural engineering.

If you received assistance in applying to college, what kinds of supports did you find most helpful?

Atlas: The Virginia Tribal Education Consortium College Readiness online workshop [was the most helpful].

Dean: I got the most help from VTEC through my tribal liaison in the Nasemond Indian Nation. They set me up with a mentor, Chef Rocchi, to help me navigate my field and decide where I would fit most, in one-on-one weekly mentoring sessions. They also provided me with ACT waivers to take the exam without cost as well as a subsidized ACT test prep course.

VTEC paid for me to have ACT prep classes online and this was so beneficial to me. I was able to prepare for the exam and really get a feel for the test. Also, because of the program I was able to improve my score after testing the second time. My mother has also been extremely helpful in my search for the best place for me as we have been able to have numerous discussions about what I want for my future.

Tristan: While one-on-one application guidance has been very helpful, the most important support I have received has come from my family, especially my mother.
What challenges have you faced in pursuing your education and preparing for a career?

Living in a small town and going to a small school with virtually no Indigenous population besides my family has not been easy … On multiple occasions, I have dealt with offensive language or stereotypes in relation to Indigenous peoples ... This is a challenge on its own but becomes even more difficult when bringing it forward is met with further resistance and no effort to change or fix the issues surfacing.

Dean: Some challenges I have had involved picking the right programs to pursue and what direction I want to focus on in the vast opportunities of the food, beverage, and hospitality industry. It has also been challenging this year in my trade school class to adjust to what it is like to work in the demanding atmosphere of a high production kitchen.

Katheryn: I have found it challenging to settle on one career and college. There are so many options, and it is very stressful trying to settle on one.

Tristan: It has been difficult to get enough money together to make sure that I can make it through college without having to take on a great deal of debt.

Is there any advice you would give to people who want to support education and career success among Native American/Indigenous students?

Atlas: Based on my own personal experience, my advice for people and school systems who want to support the education of Indigenous students is to practice sensitivity. Do your research and ensure you aren’t furthering offensive stereotypes. If the content being taught has offensive language or stereotypes – particularly classic novels or history writings – unpack that in class along with the main lesson. Make it clear to students, Native and non-Native, that racially insensitive content can and should be addressed and dismantled properly. Taking these actions will make Indigenous students everywhere feel safer and more comfortable in classroom settings.

Dean: The best thing to do is to connect Indigenous students with mentors from their Native community who are well versed in a profession the student is interested in. This helps them see they are not alone, and they, too, can be successful. Also, having admissions and financial aid counselors on site at tribal community events helps create awareness for Indigenous students of the opportunities available to them. The personal connection is much more meaningful than emails or fliers.

Katheryn: First, thank you! Second, not all Native American students live close to their tribal areas, and being able to access help from farther away has been instrumental in my journey. Please keep doing this work as it really is so helpful to so many of us!
Tristan: It can be difficult for students to realize what they want to do and why college is a useful idea until it is too late to meaningfully improve their college applications. I think it's important to help young Native Americans gain ambitions for things they want to learn and jobs they might like to have early on.