SDSU awarded American Indians into Nursing grant

Tom Stenvig
Tom Stenvig

Scholarship support for Native American nursing students at South Dakota State University has been bolstered by a four-year federal grant.

The SDSU College of Nursing is among five universities nationwide to receive a grant from the Indian Health Service for its American Indians into Nursing program. SDSU is to receive $337,341 for its first year (Aug. 1, 2020-June 30, 2021) with future years expected to at least match that, according to Tom Stenvig, the project director at SDSU.

The project has been given the title Wicozani, a Lakota term meaning a place of health and balance.

With more than 75% of the budget going directly to nursing student support, that will provide full scholarship support and a stipend for seven undergraduate nursing majors and two graduate nursing students, according to Stenvig, associate professor and coordinator of the college’s Ph.D. program.

Mary Anne Krogh, dean of the college, said, ““This is a fabulous opportunity to ease the financial burdens of these students as they earn their nursing degrees.”

Valeriah Big Eagle, diversity outreach and engagement coordinator with the college’s Rapid City site, said, “This is a great opportunity for us to be able to support Native American nursing students.

“One of the things that several Native American students experience is the financial barrier of living in poverty. We have students who are passionate about becoming a nurse and now we’re able to support them financially. If they’re wanting to give back to their community, this is great way to have their education paid for.”

The application takes into account financial need and academic achievement as well as a personal statement on how recipients would give back to their Native community.

Upon graduation, recipients must fulfill a service obligation and serve a minimum of two years with a tribal health program or Indian Health Service.


36 Native Americans pursing nursing at SDSU

Currently, SDSU has 21 Native Americans in the undergraduate nursing program and one in the graduate program as well as 14 in pre-nursing courses. Students must have been accepted into the nursing major to receive the Indian Health Service funding.

The college has a long history of training Native American nursing students and also received funds from this Indian Health Service program in 2003-08 when it operated the Wokunze project.

“This award shows how dedicated SDSU is in supporting Native American nursing students,” Big Eagle said.


Well-supported program gains results

The well-supported Rapid City site includes the Native American Nursing Education Center, where Native American students have a “home, where they can study, have a meal or decompress,” according to Bev Warne, coordinator of the center, a mentor for the students and an adjunct professor for the college.

She said, “I meet with each student once a month and as needed. They all want to give back and stay home and make a difference to the people. Mentoring is important. It’s wonderful to see a young person develop into a professional nurse.

“Our program comprehensively supports people. Financially, of course, and also academically. We have tutors available, encouragement at all times … There is also social and culture support. We have a monthly soup and learn, where we bring in a Native speaker to talk about some aspect of our culture.”  

During the past 10 years (2010-19), 41 Native American students have graduated from the Rapid City campus with 30 in the standard B.S.N. program, one in the RN to B.S.N. program and one in the doctoral program.

“Some of the nurses that graduated during that time are now part of the Great Plains Native American Nursing Association. It does make a difference through time,” Warne said.  

The college hopes to make initial awards this semester. Funding could go to enrolled students or new students after they have been accepted into the nursing program.