Washington State University is now offering an online program in American Indian Studies that leads to certification. This will provide an opportunity for those living away from campus to expand their education and enhance their opportunities for future employment.
Michael Holloman, Colville/Coeur d’Alene, heads up the American Indian Studies program at WSU. He talked of the advantages in having an online certification program, not only for Native people but also for others who work with reservations and tribes in a variety of ways.
He acknowledges that attrition rates are often high for Native students. “Our familial ties are enormous, sometimes exceeding our own personal interests.” An online program would help alleviate that problem by offering a certificate program for those who choose to remain at home rather than attending a college. The certification program is identical to a minor in American Indian Studies in terms of courses required and class hours.
The requirement for certification is that students take nine hours (three classes) of core courses plus another nine hours of elective work.
Holloman said that in the four years he’s been at WSU he’s only had two people pursue a certificate, “Mainly because people involved in our program are taking it for a minor. Now that we have the certificate online, that’s for non-degree seeking students. Anyone who wants to apply to a global campus is able to apply and take course work.” He also noted that in the two weeks over the holidays he’d received “at least 20 calls from area codes all throughout the west.”
Josiah Pinkham works in the cultural resource program for the Nez Perce Tribe. “I think it will be helpful because we have tribal members here that lack the resources, either time or financial, to go to the WSU campus. It’s definitely a helpful thing.” He added that he is interested himself, even though he has a bachelor’s degree but hopes to one day receive advanced degrees. “I think the online certificate would be a great way to kind of get me back in the groove.”
Pinkham has had overlapping work experiences with Holloman, “and it’s always been positive. He has set up a pretty vast network in the Pacific Northwest and also in Washington, D.C. He’s a well connected man.”
Pinkham also commented on the value for non-Native people taking the class. “One of the things growing clear is a need for people who are educated (about tribal culture) in working with tribes. There is a growing need and people are responding with requests for cultural awareness training.”
Frequently this interaction concerns environmental subjects. Avista Utilities is one such company and has interactions with all the Upper Columbia tribes. Toni Pessemier serves as American Indian Relations Advisor for the company and she pointed out values in having some of their employees sign up for an online class. “Having the ability to understand and appreciate and work effectively with individuals or their organizations is important to their jobs and roles at Avista. If they had a certificate or background in American Indian Studies, such as the program at WSU, it really helps create that experience or background they could bring to their job in our company. It helps them to do their job better.”
Holloman pointed out that industry employees can frequently get their course work paid for them by the company. Employees from various companies have expressed to him in the past a wish to have access to such an online course.
He isn’t aware of other schools offering online certification, saying they haven’t found them in their research but acknowledges there might be others.
“The dream is that this is the first step of a larger online degree program. It doesn’t mean we won’t offer the certificate, which we will. Maybe down the road WSU will have an online major in American Indian Studies and will definitely have a larger offering.”