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Project Compass announces Mini-Grant recipients

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Officials with Project Compass, an effort on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus to develop and improve culturally responsive strategies for its Native American students, has announced that it has funded 9 mini-grants to campus faculty and staff totaling nearly $18,000 that will help to support the mission of Project Compass while engaging students and increasing campus awareness of Native cultures.

The University was awarded a major grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation in January to better serve its Native American student population as well as the region's Native American community. The award made the University eligible to receive up to $750,000 over the next four years to put toward this effort. The University was one of four universities in New England chosen to participate in Project Compass, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation's multi-year initiative aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented populations graduating with four-year degrees. Project Compass is administered by the foundation's intermediary, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education.

These mini-grant projects, to be implemented during the next year, are one portion of a comprehensive, multi-year plan to improve Native American student retention, academic success and graduation rates at UMPI. The University has engaged with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians on this effort. Other key components include the creation of a Native American Student Center, formation of a center for student success and retention, and the development of integrated First Year Learning Communities incorporating cohorts of Native American and other underserved groups of students.

Mini-grant recipients include: Ms. Renee Felini, Ms. Jean Henderson, Dr. Jason Johnston, Mr. Luke Joseph, Dr. Jacqui Lowman, Mr. David Putnam, Dr. JoAnne Putnam, and Dr. Alice Sheppard.

Ms. Renee Felini received $1,660 to incorporate the creative expression of the Wabanaki people into some of her Art courses, including an introductory Art course that reaches a large number of first year students and a ceramics class, thereby exposing many UMPI students to the history of Native American people in the region and encouraging student research and discourse. Felini will conduct research, gather images, and create course slides for use most immediately in the courses she teaches during the 2009-2010 academic year. She will also work toward the development of workshops as part of these classes in future years which could include dance, drumming, and basket-making.

Ms. Jean Henderson received $870 to organize a professional development opportunity for UMPI adjunct faculty at the Houlton Higher Education Center - a viewing of the documentary film Wabanaki: A New Dawn followed by a discussion of the survival of Native American culture in today's world led by Richard Silliboy, a tribal member with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, and a dialogue of how to incorporate Native American culture across the curriculum. The project includes a follow-up survey after the event regarding relevant curriculum changes.

Dr. Jason Johnston received $1,875 to engage students participating in two UMPI courses in the improvement of trails and educational materials, and the incorporation of Native content into those materials, for the West Campus Woods. The project - which will be done in collaboration with Native community members - includes new and replaced posts and signage, an informative trailhead, new or redesigned educational materials such as brochures and web pages that will add new content focusing on Native American ecological content, and a new trail that leads to black ash, the tree used in Native basket-making. Students will present their project during an end-of-semester event.

Mr. Luke Joseph received $1,000 to purchase educational resources and materials for the Native American Educational and Services Center, which was recently established at UMPI to create a comfortable atmosphere on campus for Native American students. It serves as a location that provides these students with strong support as they complete their college educations, including everything from tutoring services to assistance in filling out paperwork to establishing positive connections on campus.

Dr. Jacqui Lowman received $3,000 to develop a multi-pronged approach to helping Native American students and other traditionally marginalized people use communication as a tool for advocacy and dissemination. The effort includes working with Native American students to increase coverage of Native American events and issues on campus and beyond; offering basic writing workshops and strategies for message formulation, framing and dissemination; and working toward the creation of an Advocacy Center or Advocacy Summer Institute.

Mr. David Putnam received $2,340 to engage Native American UMPI students and community members in real-world ancestral sites compliance research to take place in the Restigouche and Northumberland Counties of New Brunswick, Canada. The funding will employ three Native students and community members in assisting Putnam with the fieldwork he has been asked to do by the Pabineau First Nation of New Brunswick. This field work involves locating ancestral Wabanaki archaeological sites in the general area of a proposed wind farm project.

Dr. JoAnne Putnam received $3,000 to organize an in-depth faculty development workshop - featuring three Native American educators with expertise in delivering such programs - that focuses on regional Wabanaki culture, history, educational approaches, and curricular issues, as well as developing best practices for instruction and curriculum for Native American and First Nations students. The objective of the workshop is to foster culturally responsive education that is grounded in regional Wabanaki history and culture and existing scholarly literature. The group of faculty who participate in the workshop will commit to developing and implementing an instructional or curricular approach in their courses over the next academic year and sharing their experiences with faculty during the spring semester.

Dr. Alice Sheppard received $3,000 to modify her Social Psychology course so it integrates and emphasizes Native American perspectives, history and culture through student presentations, readings, discussions, films, and writing assignments. Native American focused books, DVD's and cultural artifacts will be utilized as part of the course. Major concepts to be applied include cultural diversity, social identity, interpersonal perception, social categories, stereotypes, stigmatization, in-group/out-group divisions, social roles, gender issues, social humor, media, and activist research. A unique component of the modified course will be to utilize software that allows PowerPoint presentations to post in-class questions and collect immediate and anonymous, categorized responses from students, thereby spurring classroom discussion.

Dr. Alice Sheppard and Mr. David Putnam received $1,115 to create a Wabanaki garden on campus that features plant specimens used by local Native Americans for several purposes, including food, healing, dyes, ceremonies and artifacts. A student will work under the direction of professors and a member of one of the local Native American tribes to design the garden and develop an informative brochure about it. The garden and educational materials are expected to be utilized in courses involving anthropology, botany and environmental science.