Tribal Colleges: Successful Resources for Students and Internships

By Connie Sheehan posted 26 days ago


United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) is located in the capitol city of Bismarck, North Dakota, and serves approximately 450 students each semester. The college recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and is the second oldest Tribal College in the United States. The college is housed on a former Japanese Internment Camp from WWII. UTTC offers 15 programs of study, including certificate programs, associate and bachelor degreesonline and campus-based. Approximately half of the staff employees at UTTC are Native American and roughly 48 percent of our students are ages 24 and older. Approximately 70 percent of our students qualify for federal Pell Grants. Total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, housing and a meal plan for a single student on campus is $12,822. Close to 95 percent of the UTTC student body are members of federally recognized tribes from throughout the United States and Canada. The persistence rate at UTTC is 60 percent.

UTTC is committed to meeting the academic, cultural, and emotional needs of the students. We have an elementary school on campus as well as a child development center that serves children ages birth to five. Public school buses pick up older students on campus and take them to middle and high school in the nearby city of Bismarck. The Wellness Center administers an Indian Health Services grant to offer medical care to all tribal students and their family members. This includes personal and group therapy, chemical dependency classes, domestic violence advocates, and services of a full-time student health nurse.

A number of our students are food and clothing insecure. The Campus Cupboard is a food pantry on campus that is stocked by employee donations and through a contract with a local food distribution center. For the past two years, the Student Government Association has conducted winter clothing drives. The winter clothing that is collected is given directly to the UTTC students and their children. The wind chill is commonly 30 degrees below zero in North Dakota.

UTTC students are provided hands-on opportunities to employ their education on and off campus. Our automotive technology degree program has a full-service automotive shop on campus in which automotive students and instructors gain real-life work experience by repairing and performing maintenance on student and employee vehicles. The only cost to students and employees is the cost of replacements parts.

Another example of an internal internship is UTTC’s own print shop on campus. Graphic design students participate in the operations of the print shop, with their instructor as their mentor, from creating the artwork to the production of the print job.

The Heavy Equipment Operations program works with the UTTC facilities department of the college by completing jobs to improve campus infrastructure such as removing concrete so a drain remediation system could be installed. Students were part of solving the problem, gained relevant industry experience, and observing the entire process from start to finish.

Our Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems degree program experiments with food hybrids in the Dragonfly Garden on campus, which produces bountiful fresh vegetables each summer and fall. This garden produce is distributed to all students and staff. Our culinary arts and foodservice students host free holiday meals for students and staff and offer recipes.

External, or off campus, internships are a required component for a number of our degree programs. These internships require students to have professional clothing or specific uniforms, transportation to the internship, and funds to pay for childcare costs. Through the Project Success grant, we are able to pay our interns $11.00/hour and provide bus passes for local public transportation. We were also able to establish a Career Closet that has professional clothing available to students at no charge. The grant also purchased equipment for the Career Closet so it can be professionally displayed.

Some of the degree programs require students to purchase tools, non-skid shoes, flame retardant clothing, or outdoor wear for working outside. The college hosts a Workforce Initiative and Opportunity Act (WIOA) office on campus that provides clothing, tools, and fees allowances to eligible students to pay for these expenses.

Other examples of off-campus internships include a joint venture with the First Nations Women’s Alliance and the local Abused Adult Resource Center and the ND Game and Fish and the local Garrison Dam project. Our students have the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the workplace, providing them an invaluable opportunity to hone their job-ready skills.

Career services hosts a “soft skills” course for all interns going off campus to discuss expectations, conflict resolution, emotional IQ, and equity issues co-taught by “weathered” current students. If a student is unable to carry through with their internship requirements after resources have been made available, they are required to find their own internship without the assistance of career services. The career services director is a resource to all students, faculty, and staff and provides all of the resources students need to be able to graduate and gain employment.

The faculty and staff at UTTC have shared many times that the learning environment is a reciprocal relationship, with staff learning as much, if not more, from students than the students learn from us. Our dedicated faculty and staff view it as a privilege to work with our student population.