Member Spotlight: Nebraska Indian Community College
A Positive Step
By Mark Gordon
What does it mean to live a better life? It is true that we may all define this somewhat differently, and as individuals these definitions may even change throughout the cycle of life, but what are the commonalities? Most would say happiness and a positive outlook are key ingredients to living a better life; however, having a means to support yourself and your family is essential. Recently, positivity has been mapped by Gallup Inc., and the results are interesting, but what do they tell us? It would seem from this evidence that little has to do with economic prosperity, as the study finds many meager countries ranked toward the top. How can this be? Are the meager really more positive than the prosperous? Perhaps it is out of necessity, culture, or a spiritual connection to place, but it is truly an asset to build upon.
Many community colleges, like Nebraska Indian Community College, have or are creating innovative programming to build up the workforce talent pool in support of current and future opportunities to assist those seeking a better life. As a Tribal college, we have experienced substantial impact serving our community by making a variety of cultural, educational, and social resources available. Even though we have enjoyed past successes, the historic flooding of 2011 caused significant loss to the economic infrastructure that supported much of the employment in the area. With unemployment creeping above 40 percent, community meetings addressing job creation and new opportunities for business were very well received. As a result of these meetings, a new entrepreneur’s path was researched for our business classes. The primary research conducted with the community looked at solutions for job creation and opportunities for us to act upon for results. We were truly overwhelmed by the upbeat and positive responses we received from the community, along with the wide variety of ideas for business creation. The research analysis indicated that this was the direction the community wanted to move toward.
The strategy was conceived by examining our own rural, state, and other isolated communities’ economic development plans. The process aligns community interest and assets in creating business in support of current and new ripe industry clusters, using value added positions. With the help of several regional economic development organizations and partners, we created Leadership Training for Community Entrepreneurs of the Santee Sioux and Omaha Nations. This new workforce development training program has been developed from the Nebraska Entrepreneurship Task Force (NET Force) and includes entrepreneurship, strategic planning, technology based economic development, and rural business development practicum. Our primary goal is to initiate educational opportunities for our communities that facilitate the growth of individual or group ideas into business plans that can be acted upon. The program supports classroom instruction, a community business podium to share ideas and strategies, business laptops, access to a business incubation area, and a Web social mall for graduates to bring items to market quickly. Our college is committed to strengthening our community through economic development and is providing 80 scholarships in support of this cooperative venture with the USDA Rural Development.
In the last two years, Nebraska Indian Community College has opened two new educational facilities in Nebraska—the Waca’be Zhinga Student Center serving the Umonhon (Omaha) community in Macy, and the Wayawa Tipi Student Center serving the Isanti (Santee Dakota) community in Santee. These new community resources are now an educational catalyst for the essential ingredients of what makes for a better life, as defined by the community. Our newly created entrepreneurial program began during the summer 2013 semester, with students ready and prepared to take this positive step on their educational journey.