PEMBROKE— UNC Pembroke has been awarded $3.4 million in two federal grants to support the establishment of an American Indian Heritage Center aimed at increasing the retention and graduation rates of American Indian students. Of the total funding received, $1.5 million will support the establishment of a new American Indian Heritage Center at UNC Pembroke.
A separate grant award received along with Robeson Community College in the amount of $1.9 has been earmarked for the transition office and programming. The funding will be used to create a transition office which will assist Robeson Community College transfer students from all backgrounds in the fields of education, math and health sciences.
“As an institution of access, UNC Pembroke is focused on the success and support of all students. With a high number of first-generation students and many dependent on scholarships or federal financial aid like the Pell grant, we realize our obligation to create opportunities and support students with potential as they look to successfully completing their degree,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings. “Grant programs like this are a critical part of that support system and offer students the resources they need in their transition to and throughout a rigorous four-year degree program.
“With the establishment of the new Heritage Center and the support programs provided, we are honoring the vision of our founders to have an impact not only today but for generations to come.”
These initiatives are being funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title III program which is exclusively for institutions designated as a Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institution (NASNTI). Robeson Community College and UNCP are among just 37 two- and four-year institutions across the United
States that qualify under this designation. And, they are 2 of only 3 institutions located east of the Mississippi River.
To meet the NASNTI designation, institutions must have an enrollment of undergraduates that is no less than 10% American Indian students. The undergraduate American Indian student population at UNCP currently stands at 14%, representing more than tribal affiliations from across the state and nation. UNCP remains the only four-year public institution in the United States founded by American Indians specifically for the education of American Indians and has formally been designated as North Carolina’s historically American Indian university.
The newly established American Indian Heritage Center (AIHC) will provide advising, programming and support services to its American Indian student population. Initiatives include a pre-orientation event, peer tutoring, financial literacy workshops, specialized workshops for first-generation college students, academic achievement ceremonies, academic success coaching and cultural programming. The center will also offer professional development and cultural presentations for non-native faculty, staff and students.
The AIHC is the centerpiece of the Honoring Our Heritage project, which according to the grant proposal will serve American Indian students with the highest need for services, including those who are low-income, non-traditional, first-generation and from rural areas.
Dr. Ashley McMillan was the principal investigator for the grant and will serve as center director. McMillian’s doctoral work was focused on creating culturally engaging campus environments and fostering a sense of belonging for American Indian students in higher education. She has experience with the success factors among American Indian student progression and completion in higher education.
“The creation of this center at UNCP building a sense of heritage and connection is a strong step forward in our efforts to recruit, retain and graduate American Indian students which is essential to maintain our NASNTI designation. These programs are also part of a larger effort among all NASNTI schools nationwide to advocate for access to funding that supports the success of Native students by demonstrating results that impact in our communities,” McMillan said.
Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, professor and chair of the American Indian Studies Department, characterized the future center as ‘groundbreaking,’ adding she’s looking forward to collaborating with McMillan with recruitment, advising and other support services for American Indian students.
“This is something our staff and department members have been doing informally for our American Indian students, but now with this new center there will be a more permanent place for these services to be provided,” Jacobs said.
“This is really important,” Jacobs added.
In addition to the center, UNCP will also launch a Partnership to Success Transfer Transition program with RCC. The program will assist all transfer students through academic support, peer mentor programs and tutoring services in the areas of financial literacy, teacher education support, nursing and math.
“Robeson Community College’s commitment to assisting transfer students served by the NASNTI grant is primary to our mission of providing excellent educational opportunities to our students and providing a highly skilled workforce for our community,” said RCC President Melissa Singler. “Our partnership with UNC Pembroke will ensure student success while meeting the needs of employers for well- educated professionals.”
The primary goal of the partnership is to provide students with a smooth transition from RCC to UNCP and, ultimately, serve the region in critical areas of the workforce. Plans are to establish a Transfer and Commuter Center designed to promote college continuation and graduation through centralizes services and opportunities that promote student success and boost student engagement.
“The need for this project is paramount for our region,” said Lois Williams, associate vice chancellor for Enrollment. “This partnership between UNCP and RCC provides the pathway to educate and graduate more students prepared to meet the growing health care of the region along with the need for quality educators.”