Local high school students live the college life

By Joan Levitt
Special to the Times

ST. MICHEALS, Ariz., December 13, 2012

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(Courtesy photo - Kaitylyn Haskie)

Twelve of the 13 students from St. Michael High pose for a photo during their recent visit to Fort Lewis College.

A group of St. Michael High seniors recently sampled classes at Fort Lewis College and liked what they experienced.

Thirteen students interested in learning more about the college's Liberal Arts College sat in on classes in accounting, engineering, Native American literature, marketing, biology, environmental science and more.

This experience was offered because many post-secondary institutions have recently raised admission standards.

The trip was the collective work of many individuals at the college including staff from admissions, housing, guest services, the Native American student center, and faculty in several departments.

While prospective students and their families frequently visit Fort Lewis for daily information sessions and tours, this two-day experience offered a feel for classes, dorm life, food, and the overall college environment.

Terry Hobbs, a Fort Lewis admissions representative who visited St. Michael High School in October, noted the difference between this visit and the more conventional college PowerPoint tour.

"A typical campus visit lasts something like three hours and then, bang, you're off to the next school and they all run together in your mind. St. Michael students were here more like 20 hours…and time to become comfortable with some of their surroundings.

"I think it was very important for them to spend time in the Native American center," he added. "It's open to all students, but obviously its goal is to provide services and space for our Native students."

Native American students comprise over 20 percent of the approximately 3,800 students who attend the college, according to Hobbs.

The college has long been attractive to Native students because of Durango's breathtaking natural environment, small classes, friendly community, and tuition waiver for Native Americans have drawn college-bound young people from numerous tribes to its campus.

Mitchell Davis, public relations officer at the college, described some of the services designed for Native student success.

"The support system at Fort Lewis College for Native American students is one thing that we know is attractive for prospective students," said Davis. "We have over 120 tribes represented here, so a Native American student is not going to be alone when they're on campus.

"He or she will find many others who share the same background, beliefs, challenges, advantages, and concerns," added Davis. "Being able to connect with a community at college is hugely important for students, regardless of ethnicity, to succeed."

The average class size at the college is 22 with the student-to-faculty ratio at 19:1.

Davis outlined the history and why tuition is waived for Native students.

Over a hundred years ago, Hesperus, Colo. was the site of the Old Fort Lewis, where a military post and government boarding school for Natives were located. When the land was transferred to Colorado, the state agreed to maintain the land as "an institution of learning," and accepted the condition that Native students would be admitted without any charge for tuition, said Davis.

Davis also added that the college adopted more rigorous admissions requirements in 2008.

"Five years ago Fort Lewis raised its admissions standards and, after a brief dip in enrollment, has seen positive results," Davis said.

The goal of this was to attract more academically prepared students, according to Davis.

St. Michael senior Tahnibah Begay was hosted in a women's literature class by visiting instructor of English Chris Goold, who teaches magazine feature writing, creative nonfiction writing, mass communications, and semantics.

Jared Deswood, a member of the National Honor Society and a soon-to-be freshman at Fort Lewis College, where his brother is a junior, had only a few words to say about the accounting class he attended, "It was awesome."

Levitt is an English teacher and senior academic adviser at St. Michael High)

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