Santee College Has A New Place To Call Home
Condensed by Native Village
Nebraska: Margaret Maass remembers the first time she looked for Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC) in Santee -- and couldn't find it.
"I live in Sioux City, and I first came (to Santee) 28 years ago. The (NICC) was in the tribal building. You couldn't even see where the college was (located). I drove around town, looking for it."
Maass, who now chairs the NICC liberal arts department, continued her search through the village of 300 residents.
"Finally, people from the college were standing outside the building, waving me down," she said. "I asked them why they were standing outside. They said they had already received three calls about a strange car driving around town."
Unfortunately, the college remained a well-kept secret — even on the Santee Sioux reservation — throughout its history.
That changed this fall when the NICC moved from Santee Sioux tribal hall into its own $1,500,000 facility. The new site includes three classrooms, library, science lab, tech lab, radio station, Native food and lounge, and Dakota language and culture classroom.
The U.S. Department of Education and Shakopee Tribe providing the funds.
"This was designed by the community and included things that they wanted," said NICC President Mike Oltrogge. "There were a couple of things, like a gym and dorms, that we didn't include now. But they could be added in the future."
Nebraska Indian Community College offers higher education to the Omaha and Santee Sioux tribes and other students. It currently serves students on campuses in Santee, South Sioux City and Macy.
"This is a fabulous building, and it offers great opportunities here on campus and with our distance learning," Oltrogge said. "The tribal colleges seek to preserve and revitalize the language and culture, while also providing economic development opportunities."
Oltrogge and Santee Sioux chairman Roger Trudell are talking about new vocational programs. Oltrogge would also like to provide more four-year programs at Santee. NICC currently offers associate degrees, but it holds an agreement with Bellevue University in Omaha to provide a bachelors degree in business.
"It's something we would like to do sooner than later," he said of the bachelor's degrees. "We are hoping for the 2014-16 cycle."
NICC students already see increased academic possibilities, particularly with distance-learning offerings.
NICC Student Senate co-president Brian Morris, a human services major, will graduate in May with an associate degree. He supports expanding the Santee campus courses and services.
"I have been talking with a couple of instructors, and we would like to offer counseling for alcoholism," he said. "It could be for a little group or for many people. It's something that would benefit the surrounding community."
NICC student Danielle John will also graduate in May with an associate degree in human services. Her parents attended NICC, and her aunt served as NICC president. John sees the new Santee campus as a great step forward.
"I think this (new site) will bring in more students," she said. "It will be positive, because more people will want to attend."
She also hopes the school will keep its personal atmosphere that attracts students who may struggle elsewhere.
"It's just feels comfortable (at a tribal college)," she said. "It's the (Native American) culture, but they also know your name. With the smaller classes, you have hands-on experiences and receive help from the teachers."
The new Santee campus gives NICC much greater visibility on the reservation, John said. The lack of recognition remains a problem, even for the South Sioux City campus that she attends.
"Everywhere, I talk to people, they don't know about NICC, even though it's on the main avenue (in South Sioux City)," she said."It's a good college, but a lot of people never know about it until they go here."
NICC adjunct professor Ralph Maass sees the tribal college filling an important niche, especially for students who can't travel for higher education.
"The typical profile of an NICC student is a young, single mother who is a first-generation college student," he said. "As far as getting out the word about the college, the students are the best recruiters."
Trudell noted the importance of education for his tribe.
"Our ancestors sacrificed for us, for a better life and for a better place. We are working for education, prosperity and wellness of the people," he said. "We have very high hopes for the future of the Santee people. There are many things to be accomplished ... Our ancestors are smiling down on us now."
Village © Gina Boltz
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