- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Haskell Indian Nations University is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year and has inaugurated a new president, Venida Chenault - the first alumna to lead the school.

Chenault, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi and Kickapoo tribes, became the seventh president of the university in Lawrence during a ceremony Wednesday. She was named president in January after serving in several positions at Haskell since 1991, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (https://bit.ly/1pkuENJ ).

Chenault, who was a single mother on government assistance while she earned several college degrees, said her life proves how valuable higher education is to American Indians.

“I am here today as evidence that we can beat the odds,” Chenault said. “Education does improve our lives, and it does improve our opportunities for success.”

In the past five years, Haskell has faced problems, including a federal investigation into academic fraud and athletic probation, which was lifted this spring. With an enrollment of 790, the university also has weathered federal funding cuts and will have an academic accreditation review this school year.

The campus needs new residence halls and science facilities, as well as renovations to some historic buildings, Chenault said. The school’s newest building, Roe Cloud Hall, was opened 20 years ago.

“It is time to invest in our college,” she said.

She said the school’s athletics programs and auxiliary programs need more funding and autonomy to be effective. “We’re not asking for handouts,” she said. “We’re working to find solutions to the challenges we face.”

Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor of the University of Kansas, said she is optimistic about Haskell’s future.

“I believe that big things are in store for Haskell under her leadership,” Gray-Little said.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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