by Chrissy Dill
Southeastern’s Native American Center for Student Success provides Native American students with many opportunities that allow them to be productive and achieve their academic goals at the university.
“One of the most important aspects of our jobs in the NACSS is to be here for students if they need assistance or just need to see a friendly face,” said the center’s coordinator, Chris Wesberry, who has been a part of the center for six years.
The center’s biggest accomplishment recently, according to Wesberry, is the university ranking sixth in the nation in awarding undergraduate degrees to Native American graduates in all disciplines combined.
The main focus of the center is to provide helpful resources for Native American students, Wesberry added. According to Wesberry, there are currently 20 different tribes represented on campus, all of which are eligible to receive services from the NACSS, with SE having a 29 percent Native American student population.
An example of these services the NACSS offers students is scholarships, provided by the O.J. and Mary Christine Harvey Education Foundation and the Native American Excellence in Education (NAEIE) grant.
The O.J. Harvey scholarship provides its recipient $2,500 a semester. Currently a total of 11 SE students are holders of this academic award and three have recently graduated.
According to Wesberry, the O.J. Harvey scholarship has provided over $100,000 in scholarships to Native American students since 2007.
The NAEIE grant, funded by the Office of Indian Education, is awarded to Native American students whom are pursuing a degree in education. Currently the scholarship is providing for 12 students full tuitions.
According to Wesberry, in order to receive the NAEIE scholarship, the student must agree to work in a school with a significant Native American student population, which is the majority of school systems in Oklahoma.
“Being a part of this grant has allowed me to learn so much about Native American culture,” said NAEIE recipient Charlee Dill, who will graduate in May. “I feel so blessed to have been given the grant and the opportunities it has given me.”
“Providing services and resources to our Native American students is a blessing,” said Wesberry. “That’s what we like to do.”
Not only does the NACSS offer financial aid for its students, it also provides opportunities for students to learn more about their Native American heritage. This year the center was able to send seven students to the Choctaw Indian Fair in Philadelphia, where they participated in various cultural activities, according to Wesberry.
The center is also home to the Native American Student Association, which holds meetings Wednesdays at 5 p.m. in Room 323 of the Student Union. This student organization conducts various activities throughout the year, including aiding with organization of the upcoming Miss Indian SOSU Pageant in September, contributing a float in the SE Homecoming Parade each year and holding a powwow in the spring.
“The Native American Student Association is a pretty active group on campus,” said Wesberry.
As NACSS coordinator Wesberry’s responsibilities include academic advising, teaching an orientation course and the native education policy class, which is part of the native studies minor, and providing helpful resources for students throughout their time at SE. “Every day we have the opportunity to help a student in some way,” said Wesberry.
“I do academic advising for all incoming freshmen who are Native American,” said Wesberry. “I try to enroll as many as I can.”
Wesberry’s has been teaching an orientation course for incoming Native American freshman for several years, he said. This year he has a total of 33 students participating in the class. Students learn basic information usually included in an orientation class as well as gain knowledge of traditional Native American culture, said Wesberry.
The NACSS holds a graduation reception each May to honor Native American graduates, where students and their families are recognized and students receive a graduation stole displaying a diamond-pattern design. “We’re hoping this May for more students to wear them,” said Wesberry.
November is dubbed “Native November” by SE and is filled with many events aimed towards Native American students, such as various guest speaker presentations, a native scholars recognition, native movies, a native storytelling competition and a traditional dress fashion show.
The center organizes the Native American Student Visitation Day each year, offering tribal resources, university services, lunch, stickball demonstrations and campus tours for high school students and recruitment purposes. This year the event will be combined with SE Live, held on Nov. 9.
If you or someone you know may be interested in attending Native American Student Visitation Day, please RSVP to Wesberry by Oct. 28. “We invite all high schools from the Choctaw Nation and southern schools in the Chickasaw Nation,” Wesberry stated.
The ninth Native American Symposium and Film Festival will be held Nov. 2-4, and the center invites papers, presentations, creative projects and films on all aspects of Native American life and studies from students.
The NACSS houses several employees, including Wesberry, a peer advisor representing the Choctaw Nation, a Chickasaw Retention coordinator and a student worker.