Talent search

Montana Post Secondary Educational Opportunities Council brings college and career fair to LBHC for the last decade
Thursday, April 11, 2019

Photo by Luella N. Brien

Kimberly Four Star, sophomore at LBHC, looks at information at the University of Montana table last week at the College and Career Fair in the Health & Wellness Center at Little Big Horn College. Emily Ferguson-Steger, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the UM, said the tribal college fair circuit includes six of Montana’s seven tribal colleges and takes about a week and half to complete.

As a recruiter for the University of Montana, Emily Ferguson-Steger was invited to Stone Child College and Little Big Horn College to talk to prospective students many times. Each invitation was great news, but since each college scheduled the visits during the same time year after year she some tough decisions to make.

“Every year I got invited to Stone Child College and Little Big Horn College at the same time,” she said. “It would break my heart to have to choose.”

After a series of similar incidents Ferguson-Steger made a suggestion to the Montana Post Secondary Educational Opportunities Council, one that would change the way colleges and universities work with tribal colleges and their students – create a tribal college and recruiting circuit.

Now the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UM, Ferguson-Steger said, “The instant benefit [of the tribal college circuit] is that predominantly white institutions were able to recruit tribal students and are able to provide a place and a face to the students they’re recruiting.”

MPSEOC was established in 1991 to promote higher education to Montana students, parents and guidance counselors. The non-profit organization is comprised of 25 institutions of higher learning and provides different training opportunities for school counselors and teachers. MPSEOC also organizes the high school college fair circuit during the month of September that visits 18 schools across the state. That high school circuit was the inspiration for the tribal college circuit.

“It empowers tribal colleges to work with colleges and universities and community partners,” Ferguson-Steger said.

The tribal college circuit has taken much of the burden of individual tribal colleges when it comes to organizing college and career fairs and it eliminated conflicting fairs, Ferguson-Steger said.

“I think there is mutual respect between tribal colleges and tribal communities and the organizations that participate,” she said. “[The circuit] gives validity to the vital roles tribal colleges play and what they provide their own communities”

This year, MPSEOC brought fairs to Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Stone Child College in Rocky Boy, Aaniiih’ Nakoda College in Fort Belknap, Fort Peck Community College in Fort Peck, Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer and concluded at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency on April 2.

“It’s a good resource to find out what majors schools have to offer,” Kimberly Four Star, a sophomore at LBHC, said.

Four Star is graduating in the spring and is considering Montana State University Billings and the University of Montana.

“It’s a good opportunity to see if there are schools that interest you or future jobs you might want to have,” she added. “The federal and state programs that are here are surprising.”

Executive Director at MPSEOC, Amy Leary said the organization was designed to get colleges and high schools to work together and creating the tribal college circuit was the next logical evolution.

“It’s been an amazing example of collaboration between tribal colleges and universities coming together and helping students and it’s been really impactful,” Leary said.

By building relationships at prospective transfer schools tribal college students are able to feel connected to the school once they start attending, Leary said.

“We are a great example of collaboration across the state,” she said. “It’s a way for students to build connections at transfer schools, ensuring that Native American students have a soft place to land at the school.”

The tribal college circuit wrapped up with Leary thanking 55 organizations for their participation in the fair at LBHC. The continuity of the tribal college circuit makes it easier for organizations to participate in individual fairs or the entire circuit.

Several regional colleges and employers were present and each year more participate.

“In the end more students get served,” Leary said. “We are building a network and it’s been pretty cool to see the growth.”

Alda Good Luck the community outreach coordinator and first-year student coordinator at LBHC said the school hosted a college fair for six years, but once the circuit started they decided to work with MCSEOC.

“Our students can’t go to all the colleges in Montana,” Good Luck said, “and this is a good way to help build connections in the community. That networking is very important.”

Over 100 students from area schools and community members came to the college and career fair, she said.

Good Luck said working with the different organizations every after year is rewarding because it’s allowed her to developed relationships with the different representatives, as well as students.

“I hope we continue as long as we can, I see students who’ve gone through high school, LBHC and beyond” she said. “I see them grow, and they come back and continue to encourage others to get an education or higher training.”

Ryan Walla, regional recruiting representative at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, has only been on the job for less than two months.

“I think that there are a lot of students with different backgrounds and they all have their own story,” Walla, who grew up in Billings, said. “But everyone is looking to further their education.”

Walla is new to the tribal college circuit; he actually got his start in recruiting as a student tour guide on the Concordia campus.

“I used to be the guy who would find someone to answer questions, but now I have to find the answers myself,” he said. “I love it, but I need to prepare better.”

Walla said next year he will bring more information tailored for tribal college students.

“It’s extremely important and nice for students to see other opportunities out here,” he said. “It’s cool to see different colleges and different professions.”

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