- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The new president of United Tribes Technical College noticed something off when the school hosted a welcome event in his honor earlier this month.

Faculty members were sitting in front nearest the speakers, with students behind them.

President Leander “Russ” McDonald would prefer to have students up front, with faculty surrounding them, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1yJS9by ) reported.

“None of us would be here without them,” he said.

McDonald is the newest face on campus, taking the reins from the vice president of academic, career and technical education, Phil Baird, who served as interim president for eight months. David Gipp, who led the college for 37 years, was named chancellor in January, a role created to focus on the school’s growth and development.

One of McDonald’s top priorities is to make sure students’ Native American culture continues to thrive while they receive an education.

“Those who are more knowledgeable in their culture are more likely to succeed academically,” he said.

That can be challenging when Native Americans make up less than 45 percent of the UTTC faculty.

McDonald said he wants to help non-Native employees become culturally competent so they can do a better job educating the students they teach.

He pointed to events, such as the school’s annual international powwow, as a way to educate others about Native American culture. A good master of ceremonies, who explains the history and meaning of dances and songs, can make all the difference, he said.

“We are not here to make white men out of our students,” he said. “We are here to help make educated American Indians and for them to retain and be proud of their culture as they move forward in regard to their education.”

The school could lose “Technical” from its name under his watch. Though McDonald admits that may not be an option if it means the school’s federal funding eligibility would change, it’s an avenue he wants to explore.

He recently attended an event with officials at Bismarck State College and had expected to see “Bismarck Junior College” - the school’s former name - on their nametags. That got him thinking.

“We’re offering bachelor’s programs here now,” he said. “What’s wrong with ‘United Tribes College?’”

He said a “junior” or “technical” college suggests that a school provides certificates or associate’s degrees. UTTC has offered bachelor’s degrees in several subjects for six years.

Some students transfer to UTTC to complete one of those bachelor’s programs, but McDonald says he wants more students to take up that option. He aims to partner with tribal colleges that have only two-year programs to establish a feeder system.

McDonald, who is a product of one of those schools, Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, also served there as vice president for academic affairs before spending over a year as Spirit Lake tribal chairman.

Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana, said McDonald’s research background was a boon to her school. He has a doctorate in educational foundations and research from the University of North Dakota, and has published research on Native American health care.

“Russ was able to take us to a whole different level in terms of research capacity,” she said.

He helped the community understand the importance of research data to decision-making and planning, she said. He also listened to others in the community, which is important for a school leader, she said.

McDonald plans to do the same here by reaching out to Bismarck civic groups.

“There are people who have seen this place all these years but have never been on campus,” he said.

Already, he’s feeling welcome in Bismarck. In late October, after his first day on the job, he attended a masquerade powwow at UTTC. He saw a few people he knew singing and drumming and decided to join in.

“I didn’t feel like I was some place strange,” he said. “I felt like I was at home.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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