American Indian College Fund Honors Tribal College Students of the Year, Coca Cola Scholars, and Tribal College and University Professional of the Year
Scholarships to Be Awarded at Virtual Ceremony on April 5, 2021
Denver, Colo., April 1, 2020— The American Indian College Fund will honor 35 Tribal College and University Students of the Year, 36 Coca Cola First Generation Scholars, and its 2020-21 Tribal College and University Professional of the Year at a virtual ceremony on April 5th.
View the event recording here: https://youtu.be/le2ngtjFUZM
Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarships are awarded by the American Indian College Fund and The Coca-Cola Foundation to students who are the first in their families to attend a tribal college or university. The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded more than $5 million to the College Fund since 1990 to assist more than 400 first-generation Native Americans in their college education. The scholarship is renewable throughout students’ college careers if they maintain a 3.0 grade point average and are active in campus and community life.
Tribal College and University Students of the Year are named each year by the leadership of their tribal college and universities. Each outstanding student receives a $1,200 scholarship sponsored by the Adolph Coors Foundation. Each year the foundation also sponsors the Tribal College Leader Award. This year President Cory Sangrey-Billy, President of Stone Child College, located on the Rocky Boy Reservation in north-central Montana, will receive the award. President Sangrey-Billy will receive a $1,200 honorarium sponsored by The Adolph Coors Foundation for her dedication to her tribal college community.
President Sangrey-Billy said it was her grandmother, Dorothy Small, who modeled the value of an education and was a driving force for Sangrey-Billy to get her own education. Born and raised on the Rocky Boy Reservation, Sangrey-Billy said, “My mom was a high school student when she had me and my grandparents helped to raise me.”
Her grandmother organized with others in the community to create their own school district and get Native students out of the Bureau of Indian Affairs School, and later served on the newly formed school’s very first school board.
“She always pushed us to go to school and get our education. Both of my parents have their bachelor’s degrees, and my brother has a bachelor’s degree. Grandma always said that if you want a good life for yourself you have to have an education,” Sangrey-Billy said. She followed her grandmother’s advice and interned at the TCU her senior year, then graduated from Montana State College-Northern, 25 miles from home.
Although going to college was a foregone conclusion, she said becoming a college president was never on her radar. It was a role she grew into. “I started my work journey with a couple of different jobs. I worked at Saint Labre Indian School and at the Montana United Indian Association in Billings and a few other places, and then I came back home,” she said.
Sangrey-Billy has a master’s degree in information technology and has done some doctoral work. “Whenever I finished a project, I found myself looking for what I wanted to do next and how could I give back more to my community.”
It was when she took her first job 20 years ago at Stone Child College that “I started working here and building relationships with students and seeing the impact I could make… I knew I wanted to do this and wanted to stay here.”
Sangrey-Billy started at SCC as a Native American vocational technical education program coordinator and then became an academic dean in 2006. After the passing of the SCC’s late president Nate St. Pierre in 2017, she was named interim president, a role she held for a year before a search committee was assembled. She applied for the position and officially was named president.
“What helps me is mentors and a community of people who want me to succeed,” Sangrey-Billy said. That applies to everything—whether working to tell the story of the TCU and how it helps the community, working with accreditors, building new curriculum to serve the community’s needs, providing student services, and more.
“It takes a special person to work for a TCU. You aren’t in it for the money,” she said, noting educators earn more at non-tribal colleges and universities. “It [a TCU] is a different kind of organization and you get a different feeling when you help your community.”
It is her goal to continue the tradition of providing students with education about their cultural values-men’s values, women’s values, and the traditional ways of the Chippewa Cree people. “Knowing who you are, where you come from, and speaking your language gives us power,” she said. “It’s a big goal of mine to continue to offer this.”
To assist in cultural education at SCC, Sangrey-Billy has two elders teaching Cree language and writing to build tribal members’ fluency. Both are her grandmothers and retired teachers. She said this is more important than ever because the community lost Cree-speaking elders to COVID-19.
Sangrey-Billy counts cultural proficiency programs and creating a bachelor’s degree program in elementary education as her biggest achievements. SCC is now partnering with three other TCUs to build a bachelor’s program for educators for pre-school through third grade.
“What matters to me is educating people who want to stay in the community. Two of our students are going to the University of Montana (U of M) for social work. We are trying to give people information they need that help them do better in their jobs, such as providing case management classes for social workers and anthropology classes for students who go on to U of M,” she said. SCC is also working on a strategic plan and is inviting student/community members/faculty and staff provide to participate in the process by providing input about how the tribal college can improve and build its five-year plan.
Sangrey-Billy is busier than ever during the pandemic. “We made sure when COVID hit that faculty, students, and staff had everything they needed to go virtual,” she said. When the number of cases increased on the reservation, the college offered virtual classes and synchronous learning. “We had the highest number of completers after spring semester because we offered financial incentives to stay in school, offered laptops, and provided workshops such as moccasin-creating workshops, online games, and more to keep students engaged,” she said.
To ensure SCC was harnessing the best practices in online learning, SCC hired a marketing firm last fall to help transition to online for almost all-virtual programming (other than labs, which were held on campus). She believes fall enrollment at SCC was up 14% last fall and could be attributed to the marketing campaign.
To supplement online learning, SCC also offers regular advising for students to ensure that they have the support they need academically and otherwise to ensure their success. SCC has 12 full-time faculty members that provide advising. Other staff members also operate as co-advisors to mentor students.
Sangrey-Billy said it is important to meet students where they are. “A van driver might be a student’s only point of contact. We are trying to help our staff help our students. We do have an early alert system when students are not doing well academically, but we want to implement a system to help when they are struggling physically or mentally. We are changing the whole culture of offering counseling/speaking with people.”
In addition to creating a retention committee, SCC co-advisors reach out to students and check in during mid-terms. There are also targeted times when co-advisors talk to students throughout the semester.
Doing well in the first year of college is important to student success, and Sangrey-Billy said SCC focuses on providing students with a strong start in their first year. The college is part of the Achieving the Dream program and last fall had 308 students in the program—most from local high schools.
“When we first started the program, SCC started with data collection, but did not have an information researcher (IR)…Our student database was not that good, and we hired an IR analyst and consultant to help us build that baseline data for us. We used first-time entering freshmen surveys and other tools we had never used before. We learned how to track data and plot where we need to be, how to get there, and tie in student support services to success. We track data in a way that is meaningful for us and have a data coach and shoot ideas off of her—and the coaches we choose have extensive knowledge. SCC has been with its original coach since the start of the program,” she said.
Sangrey-Billy continues to grow SCC’s menu of options to meet the diverse needs of its community. “Every student is unique, and we want to provide education to all students… we give students a sense of structure here that they might not have at home,” she said.
As she continues to build the college to allow for the personal and professional success of others, Sangrey-Billy credits her success to the encouragement from her family in her early years and her husband and children today. “If was not for the support from my husband Cameron and my children Payson and Presleigh, I would not be where I am today.”
The 2021 Coca Cola First Generation Scholars are:
Aaniiih Nakoda College: Ester Talks Different
Bay Mills Community College: Crystal Willis
Blackfeet Community College: Tomi Calf Robe
Cankdeska Cikana Community College: Starla Littlewind
Chief Dull Knife College: LeVonna Graham
College of Menominee Nation: Dallas Hawkins
College of the Muscogee Nation: Jamie Artussee
Diné College: Shinaya Todacheenie
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College: Daphne Shabaiash
Fort Peck Community College: Marissa Follet
Haskell Indian Nations University: Makayla Sloan
Iḷisaġvik College: Haley Fischer
Institute of American Indian Arts: Elizabeth Lukee
Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College: Jennifer Curtis
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Com. College: Lydia DeNasha
Leech Lake Tribal College: Ean DuBois
Little Big Horn College: Patricia Bighead
Little Priest Tribal College: Mariah Rave
Navajo Technical University: Bernice Coan
Nebraska Indian Community College: Shiloh Tikluk
Northwest Indian College: Michael Howling Wolf
Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College: Riannon Charging
Oglala Lakota College: Trista Geffre
Red Lake Nation College: Michael Iceman
Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College: Chyann Haas
Salish Kootenai College: Annie Evans
Sinte Gleska University: Mackenzie Bechtold
Sisseton Wahpeton College: Jerald Red Buffalo
Sitting Bull College: Kaylie Trottier
Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute: TiShai Yazzie
Stone Child College: Martin Horn
Tohono O’odham Community College: Shaylene Celaya
Turtle Mountain Community College: Robert Upton
United Tribes Technical College: Aubrey Walters
White Earth Tribal and Community College: Emily Woods
University of New Mexico: Kelly Thomas
The following students were chosen by their tribal colleges and universities to as the 2021 Tribal College and University Students of the Year:
Aaniiih Nakoda College: Xavier Hawley
Bay Mills Community College: Trinity Bowen
Blackfeet Community College: Ryana HeavyRunner
Cankdeska Cikana Community College: Brittany Omen
Chief Dull Knife College: Veronica TwoMoons
College of Menominee Nation: Markie Miller
College of the Muscogee Nation: Jamie Artussee
Diné College: Triston Black
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College: Taria White
Fort Peck Community College: Michael Cooper
Haskell Indian Nations University: Autumn Wano
Iḷisaġvik College: Haley Fischer
Institute of American Indian Arts: Bryson Meyers
Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College: Justin Smith
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Com. College: Jody Quaderer
Leech Lake Tribal College: Kalene Humphrey
Little Big Horn College: Cailei Cummins
Little Priest Tribal College: Trey Blackhawk
Navajo Technical University: Amber Billie
Nebraska Indian Community College: Donna Pike
Northwest Indian College: Jasmine Higheagle
Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College: Brianna Danks
Oglala Lakota College: Charlie White Eagle
Red Lake Nation College: Salena Beasley
Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College: Miino Pelcher
Salish Kootenai College: Michelle LaRoque
Sinte Gleska University: Kristin Cox
Sisseton Wahpeton College: Jerald Red Buffalo
Sitting Bull College: Christina Walking Elk
Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute: Kamren Apache
Stone Child College: Sean Henry
Tohono O’odham Community College: Jessica Garcia
Turtle Mountain Community College: Ivie Frederick
United Tribes Technical College: Ayanna Maynard
White Earth Tribal and Community College: Nicole Dewey
About the American Indian College Fund— The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 31 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $9.25 million in scholarships to American Indian students in 2019-20, with scholarships, program, and community support totaling over $237 million since its inception. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.
Reporters: The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.
Dina Horwedel, Director of Public Education, American Indian College Fund,