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Contact: Dina Horwedel, Director of Public Education, American Indian College Fund, 303-426-8900, [email protected]

Salish Kootenai College Offering Master of Science Degree Program in Natural Resources Management

Fall 2022 Applications Accepted Through May 13, 2022

SKC GraduationApril 26, 2022, Pablo, Montana–Devastating mega forest fires and watershed contamination and other effects in the west resulting from global climate change make the work of natural resources professionals more important than ever. Salish Kootenai College (SKC), a four-year tribal college located on the Flathead Indian Reservation, began offering a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources Management in the fall of 2021 to meet this urgent need. The college is now accepting applications from qualified applicants for the degree program for the fall quarter of 2022. Applications are being accepted through May 13, 2022.

Elaine Frank, Dean of the Graduate Division at SKC, said the foundational work for the graduate program began long before the college started offering courses last fall. This new graduate program is a 60-credit hour program (approximately three years). Frank says the program is the brainchild of Rick Everett, forestry faculty, who began writing the curriculum for the program several years ago.

Everett, a native of Montana who spent eleven years at the University of California Berkeley after earning his graduate and doctorate degrees and who has taught for more than eleven years at SKC, says he began exploring the idea in 2015. He was meeting with several fire ecologists at the University of Idaho, and they began discussing developing concurrent curriculum. The idea grew from creating curriculum for a class to creating an articulation agreement for a master’s program with the University of Idaho backstopping SKC, while growing the project breadth from fire ecology to natural resources management.

The University of Idaho’s support was key to creating the program, Everett says. He credits Jerry McMurtry, Dean, College of Graduate Students, and Alistair Smith, Professor of Wildland Sciences at the University of Idaho, who were and are critical to helping SKC create the program. To get support SKC began speaking with tribes, management crews, and faculty.

The program was set to receive National Science Funding (NSF) in early 2020, but pandemic restrictions pushed accreditation work to the backburner. The program finally received approval by the Northwest Commission on Schools and Colleges (NWCCU) and is up and running. Moving forward, NSF continues to be interested in the program, as it gives tribal community members an opportunity to pursue graduate degrees and the program curriculum targets areas in the Columbia River Basin.

Coursework is conducted through distance learning/synchronous courses, which allows for students to participate. Topics include wildlife biology, fisheries, hydrology, surface hydrology, fire ecology, fisheries management, aquatic ecologies, fisheries, and forestry. The overall program goal is to give a broader, systems-based approach to natural resources with a focus on Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

The program is the first graduate division at SKC, and the team is creating policies, procedures, and communications from the ground up. And because it is new, it allows for creativity in curriculum, including a faculty exchange, student visits to the University of Idaho to do lab work, and a curriculum exchange. SKC is recruiting students who want to study after earning a four-year degree and professionals who have worked in the field and want to increase their expertise while bringing their current skills to an academic setting.

Sierra Mahseelah, Graduate Student Success Coordinator and a student in the program, says she transferred into the program this year after taking a few semesters at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Mahseelah earned her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from the University of Phoenix in Tempe, Arizona. She says she was attracted to the program because, “SKC’s new Master of Science degree in Natural Resources Management offers students in the surrounding area a chance to learn place-based knowledge and apply it within their communities.” As an enrolled tribal member of the Confederated and Salish Kootenai Tribes, Mahseelah is eager to put what she is learning to use and to help protect and preserve the resources and culture on her reservation. This program is helping her get one step closer to that goal.

In addition to growing the program, Dean Frank says SKC hopes to create a community of practice, sharing its expertise in building and launching a graduate program and its learnings from the process with other tribal colleges and tribal communities.

Please visit the Salish Kootenai College website at https://grad.skc.edu, or for additional information, send an email to Sierra Mahseelah at [email protected]. The college is also hosting a free informational session about the program on May 6, 2022, at 2 p.m. MDT. To attend, please register at https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYrf-yprTwvEtdbt3VNCVKDLFpYLYWW6c-a.

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