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The College of Education & Integrative Studies

Changing the Landscape

Native American Pipeline Program Aims to Inspire Younger Generations of Students to Seek Higher Education

By Julie Bos

College of Education & Integrative Studies - River Garza and Sarah De Herrera are members of the Native American pipeline program.

For Native Americans, the path leading to a college education may look barren. 

There are more than 100 tribes in California, but a scant 1 percent of that population will attend college. Students seeking higher education often struggle to find role models, leave the reservation or connect with a support system that can relate to them. 

Cal Poly Pomona, thanks in part to the generosity of alumnus Don Huntley (’60, animal husbandry), seeks to alter that educational landscape. 

A highly successful Fresno-based farmer and businessman, Huntley provided $150,000 to expand
Cal Poly Pomona’s Natives Aiming to Inspire Values in Education (NATIVE) Pipeline program. The program, the first of its kind in the California State University system, aims
to introduce college to Native American students in junior high school and high school, and instill a mindset that achievement in higher education is possible. 

The funds established the Huntley Gift for Native American Pipeline and Pathways to Graduation to expand the NATIVE program, which is in its fourth year and has reached more than 100 students. 

“We are broadening our outreach through our annual eight-day summer mentorship program, where we invite 14- to 18-year-old students to stay on our campus and learn about our cultural and academic programs,” says Sandy Kewanhaptewa-Dixon (Hopi), an associate professor in the ethnic and women’s studies department. 

In addition to the summer program, Huntley’s gift
will provide financial assistance for freshmen in need of campus housing, and scholarships for the purchase of books and technology. At the end of the quarter, the books go to build up Cal Poly Pomona’s Native American student library, where they can be reused by other students. The funds also support this year’s elder/scholar-in-residence, Lorene Sisquoc (Mountain Cahuilla/Apache), who will participate in activities and provide cultural knowledge and support. (See Highlights on Page 6 for Lorene Sisquoc’s profile.) 

The pipeline program has helped students navigate uncharted territory. One of them is 20-year-old Sarah De Herrera (Choctaw), a senior in business administration who plans to graduate in winter 2017.

 “Prior to being involved in the NATIVE Pipeline program, I did not have any Native American role models who had pursued higher education that I looked up to
or who inspired me to pursue my dreams for my future,” De Herrera says. “However, through my involvement in the pipeline, I was able to meet many Native Americans, including many women, who had graduated from prestigious universities who were pursing their dreams through higher education. They inspired me through their own stories and useful and relevant advice. 

“Through the pipeline, I was able to take tours and learn about the many opportunities that Cal Poly Pomona provides, specifically for Native American students,” she adds. “We also have a Native American Student Center, which gives us a place to call our own on campus.” 

Other Native American students are serving the pipeline program as mentors. River Garza (Tongva), a sophomore majoring in gender, ethnic and multicultural studies, is one of them. Garza is the lead mentor for the summer mentorship program, but also stays connected with younger students year-round — checking on school progress, offering assistance and writing letters of recommendation. Garza is also the NATIVE community liaison. 

“It’s been great to keep in touch with students who have come through the program,” Garza says. “The Native American community is fairly small and there are not many Native American college students. We’re helping to build bonds between students, the campus community and even the community at large. The tighter bonds we can build — regardless of where these students ultimately choose to
go to college — can help students get those degrees our culture desperately needs.” 

The NATIVE program is gaining regional and national recognition for outstanding outreach efforts, according to Kewanhaptewa-Dixon. 

“We have an 80 percent success rate based on those students applying and ultimately entering college. This rate is much higher than most pipeline programs, which is something we’re very proud of.”