- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) - The next president of South Dakota State University will bring with him a rare perspective for the leader of a state institution.

Barry Dunn, 62, is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and spent more than a quarter of his life living on the reservation.

It’s unclear whether Dunn will be the first South Dakota college president with a tribal affiliation, but his status is still noteworthy in a state where educators struggle to close Native American achievement gaps and tribal members are underrepresented in leadership roles.

“Many of our institutional presidents have certainly reached out to the Native American population and the tribal colleges and tried to establish good working relationships … but there’s something to be said about having one of your own in those positions,” said Mike Rush, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Dunn’s mother, Sarah Lamoureaux Dunn, was born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and moved as a child to Iowa. From there, she went to Iowa State University before returning to South Dakota.

“My mother got access to higher education through the land grant university system,” Dunn told the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/1OgKFSy ). “And that elevated our family life and challenged me. Her experience there would not have been possible at other universities and colleges in the U.S. It’s very poignant to me, a very important story to me.”

Dunn and his family returned to the Rosebud reservation after graduating from SDSU in 1975. He and his wife lived there for 17 years, and Dunn maintains relationships with the Rosebud community.

As president of South Dakota’s largest university, Dunn said he will be committed to addressing achievement gaps in higher education. He said he is proud of his Lakota roots and wants to strengthen SDSU’s relationships with tribal colleges without trying to lure students away from those institutions.

“I feel very committed to using that time wisely and in an impactful manner, really in honor of my mother, to do everything I can,” Dunn said.

Richie Meyers, director of tribal outreach for SDSU and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said Dunn will need to balance tribal loyalty with dedication to the state’s public universities. Striking that complicated balance will help Dunn as he takes the helm, Meyers said.

“Dean Dunn truly does understand this complexity, and that’s why it is a very positive and exciting time to see him as president,” Meyers said.

Frank Pommersheim, who teaches Indian law at the University of South Dakota, said it’s important that state institutions reflect the diversity of the state, and that Native Americans are underrepresented in leadership roles, especially at higher levels.

“This is just an indication of a step forward, to have diversity and reflection of the state’s makeup at a very, very high level,” Pommersheim said.

For Rush, Dunn’s leadership will be an asset for reaching out to Native Americans to ensure they are given opportunities to succeed in higher education.

Said Rush: “Part of that success is having role models and people that students can look to and say, ‘Yes, I could become president of SDSU, and I can see the value of participating in higher education at all levels.’”

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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