As a clinical psychologist, scientist and researcher, Dr. Billie Jo Kipp brings a unique constellation of perspectives and skills to Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana, where she has served as president for the past six years.
Kipp, Blackfeet, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Montana, said: “I raised five children and went to school later on in life. When I was 36 I began my bachelor’s degree and then I got my Ph.D. when I was 48. I was in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico for 10 years where I was a research assistant professor and I also had a clinical practice, providing clinical services to the Pueblo of Laguna and the Pueblo of Sandia [from 2004-2011]. I’m trained as a child psychologist and I’ve done a lot of mental health research as co-director of the Center for Native American Health in the university’s Behavioral Health Department.”
As a mother (and now a great-grandmother) who pursued her education as a mature adult, Kipp is sensitive to the needs of women in the tribal college setting.
“I see the role of tribal colleges in indigenous women’s lives as one of empowerment. One of the things I’ve tried to do is make the campus safe and make sure that students feel this is a place of safety, that they can come and they can learn, but they can also be safe because many tribal colleges are situated in very isolated, impoverished areas. With that comes all the ills of poverty—substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, all those things. So I really try to make the campus very safe and secure,” she said.
As gender roles in the American Indian community change, with women more and more likely to be a family’s major breadwinner, Kipp sees tribal colleges as critical to women’s well-being. “Education affords them that opportunity to explore their own mental strategies around the difficulties they see everyday and to develop interventions appropriate for them that are grounded in educational thought and cultural knowledge. It’s an integrated approach to improvement of women’s health and women’s healing and women’s empowerment. Tribal colleges play a significant role in the health of indigenous women.”
Blackfeet Community College is growing, Kipp said, and that’s a good thing. “In order to face the difficulties and challenges on our Blackfeet reservation, education is key,” she said. “Bachelor’s degrees are key, and master’s degrees are key. And so my goal is to really move toward a four-year college and move quickly towards that because our people are coming back, but they’re getting associate’s degree after associate’s degree.
“That’s not fair in a time of possible cutbacks in Pell grants and financial aid. We’ve got to do something different. We’re building a health sciences building that will train health care paraprofessionals, which is a critical need across the nation. As a researcher at the University of New Mexico I was heavily involved in health care paraprofessional training [as a way] to eliminate some of the health disparities in Indian country, which are rampant,” she said.
Blackfeet Community College is heavily involved in biomedical research, in part because of Kipp’s background. “We’re doing a huge amount of research. We’re looking at trauma and cortisol levels. We’re partnered with the University of Wisconsin Madison to work on childhood obesity and we’re looking at mental health and substance abuse.” Research, Kipp said, “teaches our students and exposes them to a level of thinking and problem solving that works in our community. Our students who are involved in the cortisol research and trauma really see that their work is telling us what issues make us susceptible to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.”
Kipp wants people to know that “we’re a progressive tribal college. By that I mean we still are grounded in our Blackfeet cultural knowledge, but we also are pushing the envelope around education and research and knowledge and empowerment and empowerment of women and changing roles of women in the society.”
Kipp earned her associate’s and bachelor’s of science degrees from the University of Great Falls, the latter in 1998, and her master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Montana in 2000 and 2005 respectively. She worked as a data analyst at Salish Kootenai College from 2001-2002 and then held a clinical internship at the University of New Mexico Children’s Psychiatric Hospital in Albuquerque from 2002-2003. She next served as a research associate at the University of New Mexico Center of Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addiction before moving on to a position with the Academy for Educational Development’s American Indian Technical Assistance Network where she assisted 13 tribal Headstart programs in New Mexico in fulfilling grant requirements, networking and professional development.
She conducted laboratory and field research as an associate scientist at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine Department of Family and Community Medicine from 2003-2006, then served as a child and clinical psychologist at the Laguna Tribe’s Behavioral Health Center and at the Sandia Tribe’s Behavioral Health Center. In 2009 she was back at the University of New Mexico, first as a co-investigator in the Community Health Parpaprofessional Diabetes Specialist Training Program, Project ECHO, and then as associate director for training and education at the university’s Center for Native American Health, Department of Family and Community Medicine. In 2011, she was appointed president of Blackfeet Community College.
She has published numerous articles on health, mental health and substance abuse research in professional journals, and she continues to publish even as she guides Blackfeet Community College into an ambitious future.