Leech Lake Tribal College: Reaching Out to Native Youth

Member Spotlight

As part of an ongoing effort to interest American Indian youth in a variety of careers and in pursuing higher education, Leech Lake Tribal College recently collaborated with local schools on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation to host two exciting summer programs.

The first program, known as the STAR (Successful Transition to and Academic Rigor in postsecondary education) Project, was held June 8-19, and involved a cohort of 14 rising tenth-graders from the Cass Lake-Bena High School. The project, made possible by a grant from the US Office of Indian Education, is a comprehensive and collaborative model designed to support American Indian students in making a successful transition from high school to college.

For each of the three years of the project, Leech Lake Tribal College develops and delivers for-credit ethno-biology classes and hands-on, culturally relevant field work for a period of two weeks. Taught by LLTC science instructor Steve Smith, the ethno-biology course provides students with an opportunity not only to conduct research, but also to explore ways in which the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) culture intersects with the natural environment—past, present, and future

Students learned to use various kinds of equipment used for research, including the Eckman dredge, Ph meter, temperature sensors, Van Dorn water samplers, diatom nets, secci dishes, and dissolved oxygen and nitrate meters. They also learned scientific methods for water quality testing, how to assess rivers and streams for volume and turbidity, how to collect and identify invertebrates, and how to identify indigenous plants, their uses, and the Ojibwe stories pertaining to them.

Each student took digital photos of his/her individual research project, prepared a PowerPoint lecture, and on the final day of class, gave a 10-minute presentation to a group of parents, college faculty, and other high school students. This cohort of students will continue their studies in ethno-biology and Ojibwe culture next summer, and several plan to enroll at Leech Lake Tribal College upon graduating from high school.


From July 6-31, a second group of students participated in the National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI) at Leech Lake Tribal College. The program, designed for students, grades seven through 10, was funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and provided students with the opportunity to learn about several modes of transportation, including land, water, and air, as well as the safety measures and careers associated with each. Accompanied by six adult mentors from LLTC and the community, 15 students participated in several field trips including the Minnesota History Center and the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation in Minneapolis, the Soudan Underground Mine State Park on the Iron Range, and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth.

The students also enjoyed a ship cruise on Lake Superior, and—perhaps the most popular ride of all—a 20-minute helicopter flight over the Leech Lake Reservation. On Monday, July 27, the crew from Brainerd Helicopter Service landed their Bell helicopter on the campus of Leech Lake Tribal College, and after instructing the students in safety measures, the pilot took groups of six for a breath-taking view of their homeland.

Like the STAR Project students, NSTI participants gave presentations to a large group of parents, LLTC staff, and interested community members on the final day of their program.