MSU wins top national prize for work with American Indian communities

Thursday, November 15, 2018
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Photo by Sepp Jannotta

A Montana State University nursing student conducts an examination at a health care facility in Fort Peck, Montana.

Montana State University has won the top prize in a national competition for its work engaging with American Indian communities throughout Montana.

MSU won the Connections Award in the sixth annual Innovation and Economic Prosperity, or IEP, University Awards given by The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The award is the grand prize in a competition that recognizes public research institutions for their economic engagement efforts, specifically their work with public and private-sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development through things like innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development, and community development.

“Montana State University is honored to be recognized as a national leader for the ongoing efforts to build strong, meaningful connections with American Indian communities,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “For this award, we competed with much larger universities and demonstrated our commitment to tribal needs in ways that understand, respect and embrace Native cultures.”

In recognizing MSU for its community, social and cultural development work, the APLU noted several of the university’s ongoing programs. Those include a collaboration with the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, where MSU nursing students deliver primary and preventative care to American Indian children; a digital storytelling partnership to help tribes address preservation of language, artifacts and oral histories; and a program known as Messengers for Health on the Crow Indian Reservation, which was developed to address health disparities such as low screening rates for cancers in Native women.

The awards competition highlighted the Fort Peck Nursing Project in particular. Four hundred and fifty miles from Bozeman, the Fort Peck Reservation is isolated from critical health care services. To help fill health care gaps, each year, roughly 50 Montana State nursing students who are in their junior year travel there for a week at a time to provide services to the American Indians living on the reservation. In addition to primary health care, the students offer preventative health care guidance in nutrition, mental health and dental hygiene. The students are immersed in Assiniboine and Sioux tribal cultures as they provide inschool care, make home visits and participate in events.

Since the start of the program in 2010, more than 300 nursing students have had more than 14,000 patient interactions – not only providing essential health care to underserved populations, but also helping the students gain vital experience working with patients of other cultural backgrounds.

“Since their founding, public universities have looked to spur economic development in their regions while engaging their communities,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “We applaud the winners of this year’s APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards. Their exceptional efforts provide a model for other institutions aiming to magnify all dimensions of university-driven economic development.”

The winners were announced Nov. 11 at the association’s annual meeting in New Orleans. Along with MSU, the honored universities are Colorado State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of New Mexico. In addition to the four winners, finalists included Iowa State University and North Carolina State University.

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. With a membership of 238 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliated organizations, the organization works to increase degree completion and academic success, advance scientific research and expand engagement.

Institutions are eligible to apply for Innovation and Economic Prosperity University awards once they have earned designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University; MSU received the designation in 2016 and that year won the Innovation and Economic Universities Talent Award.