It’s a busy time for visitors to the University of San Diego campus. Hundreds of prospective students and their parents are taking a tour, asking questions, learning more about programs and seeing if USD is the right fit. On April 6, an expected 60-70 people — some high school students, some younger siblings and parents — will be on campus for the same thing, but the impact, in many respects, is far greater.
The university will host its inaugural College Connections Conference, sponsored by USD’s All Nations Institute for Community Achievement (ANICA), from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre. This event is geared specifically to provide American Indian students and their families with valuable information, firsthand exposure to USD and, in general, a clear message about higher education.
“The biggest takeaway is for the students who come to the conference to leave with a sense that ‘I could see myself there,’ said Tere Ceseña, an adjunct professor in USD’s Ethnic Studies Department and co-Tribal Liaison for ANICA.
Saturday’s conference has long been a goal of USD Admissions Counselor Eric Felix and Ethnic Studies Professor and ANICA Coordinator May Fu (pictured, below left). They, along with other campus partners, see it as a continuation of the vital need for USD’s relationships within San Diego’s American Indian tribal communities. San Diego County, with 18 federally recognized indigenous Indian tribes, has the most Native American Indian reservations of any county in the United States.
“San Diego State, Cal State San Marcos and UC San Diego have been holding college conferences like this for some time that have resulted in increased awareness of educational opportunities, growing relationships with American Indian communities, and better outreach, recruitment and retention results for American Indian students,” Fu said. “I’m thrilled that USD is finally joining that movement and with such positive support from a wide range of campus and community partners. We still have a long road ahead. This is a solid step in the right direction.”
Other steps include Ethnic Studies Professor Michelle Jacobs’ work with the American Indian Recruitment (AIR) program; having USD-affiliated Tribal Liaisons — Ceseña, Theresa Gregor and graduate alumna Perse Hooper ‘09 (Hooper is pictured at right, second from left, with USD undergraduate alumna) — who carefully build relationships; and a program Fu and Felix have been involved with, Early College Program (ECP) with All Tribes American Indian Charter School. The ECP is a community partnership that allows junior and senior high school students from the school to take college-credit courses at USD and students have the support of the university, faculty and staff members who encourage them to pursue higher education.
“I thank my director at USD for allowing me to work on it,” Felix said. “Having the chance to work with the Native American community has been great. Our admissions office sees it as a major need and I see it as a social responsibility to support our local community.”
The conference features Native American educators, leaders, students and many other enthusiastic helpers. Said Fu: “One of the most important intentions of our conference is connecting these young people with American Indian college students and alumni. It’s critical that young people have educational role models that can reflect their community, culture, and aspirations back to them.”
Following introductions by Fu, Ceseña and Gregor, Educator Stan Rodriguez (Kumeyaay) will deliver a blessing and Patricia Dixon (Luiseno), a double USD History alumna (1971, ‘75 MA) and veteran Palomar College professor in the American Indian Studies Department, will welcome conference participants.
A USD student panel will then ensue with ECP student Cheyenne Jacome (Kumeyaay), freshman Riley Avila (Luiseno) and sophomore Olivia Glazner (Cherokee), who is an Ethnic Studies major, philosophy and leadership minor and a pre-law student.
“It’s great to see the conference come to fruition,” said Glazner (pictured, at right), co-president of USD’s Native American Student Organization (NASO) with another sophomore, Sloane Smith. “It’s about making a first impression. To bring students onto our campus, let them know, ‘you can be here,’ and what a great asset they’d be.”
Several breakout sessions will follow:
• “Pathways to College,” with Felix and Kelby Sarti and Rick Daily, admission counselors from Point Loma Nazarene University and Soka University, respectively;
• “Telling Your Story” with USD Admissions Counselor Lisa Saldias;
• “Admissions Case Study” with USD Admissions Counselor Joseph Davidson;
• “Parental Engagement” with Gregor (Kumeyaay); Joely Proudfit (Luiseno) with the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center; USD alumna Christy Garcia ‘08, coordinator of AIR’s Academy of Professional Excellence; Derri Ironfield with the San Diego Parent Outreach and Engagement Department; and CSU San Marcos Tribal Liaison Tishmall Turner (Luiseno);
• Elementary (K-4) Campus Trek will provide fun activities for younger siblings. USD Community Service-Learning Program Director and USD graduate alumna Ilana Lopez ’11, Inter Tribal Sports and NASO/AIR students will run it.
Participants will have lunch and can attend an on-site community resource fair, watch AIR Senior student videos, hear a keynote address by former CSU San Marcos American Indian Student Alliance Chair Michael Murphy (Luiseno), and take a campus tour.
“We want this conference to show them that people at this university care, and not just here, but at all higher education institutions,” said Gregor, a descendant of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, who teaches Ethnic Studies and English courses at USD.
— Ryan T. Blystone