In her first months as University of Minnesota president, Joan T.A. Gabel has made an extra effort to acknowledge that the campus was built on the traditional homelands of the Dakota people. Unfortunately, Native American students have long been underrepresented in higher education, including at the U of M. Doctoral student Megan Red Shirt-Shaw is working to change that.
Red Shirt-Shaw is an Oglala Lakota student in organizational leadership, policy, and development. “My Lakota identity has an incredible influence on me,” she says. When she was considering the U of M for its top-ranked higher education leadership program, a conversation with another Native student was encouraging. Once she visited campus, she was excited by her potential cohort and their research interests, as well as a strong Native population in Minneapolis and the U’s vibrant Department of American Indian Studies.
Red Shirt-Shaw knows the importance of feeling visible, and says that it’s important for Native students to be able to look around and see others like them. “I want everyone to know we still exist, we still have powerful language and culture, and we still matter.”
“I want to give back what the community needs.”—Megan Red Shirt-Shaw,organizational leadership, policy, and development
She is interested in what inspires Native students to push through systems that were not set up for them, with a focus on identity development and how to ease the transition from high school to college. Her long-term goal is to open a college preparatory high school in Rapid City, South Dakota, for Lakota youth. “I want to give back what the community needs,” she says.
Financial aid can be a critical factor in student persistence, and the Bonnie and Clark Kirkpatrick Scholarship for Educational Leadership made a huge difference for Red Shirt-Shaw. She is still coping with debt from her master’s degree, and the Kirkpatrick Scholarship helped lift that burden.
She plans to share her positive experience with other Native Americans. “I hope to tell others about the opportunities I’ve had in CEHD, and tell them this is who you can become.”
Photo by Jayme Halbritter | Winter 2020