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Opinion: Working to make ‘College educated’ and ‘Native American’ the norm

The American Indian Services provides resources to Native Americans and Alaska Natives for education

SHARE Opinion: Working to make ‘College educated’ and ‘Native American’ the norm
The University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City is pictured on Aug. 23, 2022.

The University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Yá’át’ééh, Wašté, I am Native American. I am college-educated. Unfortunately, these two sentences don’t go together for 85% of the American Indian/Alaska Native population in our country. I am on a mission to help solve this problem and in this season of hope, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Giving Machines are part of the answer. 

I am the executive director of American Indian Services, a Utah-based nonprofit scholarship organization that is dedicated to helping Native Americans have access to a quality education, while still preserving their culture and honoring their heritage. Our mission is to provide preparatory programs for youth and financial assistance for those in pursuit of a college degree. What better gift is there?

I am a product of this very mission. I know firsthand the difficulties and challenges Native students face in pursuit of higher education. I know that my life has been positively impacted by the financial assistance I was given, through which I was able to earn not only my bachelor’s degree, but a master’s as well.

In 2021, the U.S Census Bureau reported that just 14.5% of the American Indian/Alaska Native population earned a bachelor’s degree, a stark contrast to the 31.3% of the overall population who have achieved the same level of education. The No. 1 reason Native American students decide against attending college/university, or decide to drop out, is lack of financial resources. This is why we, American Indian Services, exist.

At American Indian Services we have three programs: College/University Scholarships, Trade School Scholarships and the AIS PREP Summer Program. Both the scholarship programs are aimed at educating for careers. The AIS PREP Summer Program is a free educational preparatory program for Native American youth provided by American Indian Services. Students experience three summers of rigorous STEM instruction designed to prepare them for higher education.

But we can only help those who know about us. There have been three things that have driven our group’s success and growth over our 41 years: A driven staff, motivated by our founder, social media platforms that have expanded our reach and relationships exponentially and supporters of our fundraising efforts who want to see our vision become a reality.

At 98, our founder, Dale Tingey has devoted his life and career to serving the Native American community. Dale’s vision is to help as many Native American/Alaska Native students pursue their dreams through education. In 2021, with 7 out of 10 team members being Native American, and former American Indian Services scholarship recipients, The nonprofit is now considered a ‘Native-led’ organization. Our passion and drive is grounded in experience and fully understanding how these scholarships can change not only the lives of the recipients but generations of families.

Instagram ads opened up our ability to appeal directly to potential scholarship recipients, and Facebook groups gave us an online community to connect American Indian Services scholarship recipients, scholarship alumni, potential donors or partners in a much broader way than we ever have before. Our AIS PREP Summer Program uses a Facebook group to stay connected to their students throughout the year and let them know of any events, opportunities, or deadlines. These tools are a critical component of our outreach and have enabled people to find us and find the help they need.

But this help is only available because of the many loyal organization supporters of its mission and vision, many who have supported American Indian Services from the beginning, through the pandemic, and currently. AIS would not exist without its supporters and partners. We are consistently humbled by the generosity that so many Utahns have shown American Indian Services. We receive donations through many sources including our website, individual donors, grants, corporations or private companies holding fundraising events or sponsoring our events/programs, in-kind services that we use for our students, and finally community fundraising events we host. 

The Giving Machine collaboration is a wonderful tool that allows us exposure and engagement with even more people who can help us accomplish our goals. I invite you to join us in our mission. It is my hope that as knowledge and information are shared, we can build greater relationships to build a greater society. Ahéhee’/Pidamaya (Thank you).

Chauma Kee-Jansen is Navajo and a member of the Assiniboine Sioux Tribe. She has a master’s of public administration and is the executive director of American Indian Services.