University of Wyoming’s Native American Center Wins National Award

Center recognized for promoting personal, academic development of Indigenous students

UW Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center (NAERCC) Director Reinette Redbird Curry (left) and Cass Underwood, the center’s project coordinator, accepted the 2023 Outstanding Indigenous Student Support Program Award at a student affairs conference in Boston last month. (Courtesy photo from Amanda Cheromiah for the University of Wyoming)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The University of Wyoming’s Native American center won a national award in recognition of its efforts to promote the personal and academic development of Indigenous students.

The staff at the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center (NAERCC) accepted the 2023 Outstanding Indigenous Student Support Program Award from the Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Community at the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education conference in Boston last month. The award is presented to an individual or group who have created a new program or enhanced an existing program that supports Indigenous student success.

“It is an honor to accept this award on behalf of our team,” Reinette Redbird Curry, the center’s director, said in a statement. “This award would not be possible without our Native students being actively involved, reaching out to us for support and allowing the NAERCC to be a part of their college experience. Our team works hard to provide services and resources to students, and it is improving now that we are fully staffed and have the capacity to host more events. I am proud of our team and the effort we put in toward student success.”

Curry, who is a UW graduate and a Northern Arapaho, Northern Ute and Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal member, said she has witnessed the number of Native students at the college grow and become more actively involved since the center opened six years ago.

“All of the programming held within the NAERCC assists us with retention and provides our Native students with tools to be successful and reach their higher education goals,” she added, noting that the center also helps students maintain their cultural identity.

The center houses the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program, the High Plains American Indian Research Institute and the Native American Summer Institute. It also offers student support services and programming focused on building community for Native UW students, such as Native film screenings and a noontime knowledge speaker series.

Along with Curry, Cass Underwood, a Northern Arapaho, serves as the project coordinator, and Christie Wildcat, a Northern Arapaho, Navajo, Cherokee, Pawnee and Euchee tribal member, serves as the senior office associate at the center.

“All the staff here are honored to even be nominated for this award,” Wildcat told the Wyoming Truth. “Our goal and purpose [are] to help students to be as successful as they can be, here at the University of Wyoming, as Native students. This award acknowledges the work we do, but we do not do the work we do for awards, but rather to help give the students a community here at the university to support them in their endeavors in their college careers.”

The staff at the center also back Native student organizations, including the Keepers of the Fire and the American Indian Science Engineering Society chapter at UW. In addition, they partner with other campus agencies, such as Multicultural Affairs to host student programs.

Wildcat shared that future plans for the center are to include more staff at the facility, such as a Native student recruiter; to retain and increase the number of students the center serves; and to host more events in collaboration with other departments.

Lynette St. Clair, the Indian Education Coordinator for Fremont County School District #21, said she is not surprised the center won the national award.

“Overall, the outreach and community engagement for the Wind River Reservation is impressive,” St. Clair told the Wyoming Truth. “The Native American center provides a comfortable, home-like environment for students and visitors and offers a variety of activities geared toward student support. These are all critical in the success of our students who are sometimes experiencing life away from home for the first time.”

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