South Dakota State University’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society student organization received three top national awards—the Advocacy Partner Service Award, the Recruitment and Retention Award, and the Chapter of the Year Award—at the annual AISES National Conference, held Oct. 6-8 in Palm Springs, California.
The AISES Chapter of the Year Award is presented for overall achievement by a college chapter in the promotion of the principles and goals of AISES. SDSU chapter President Cierra Sazue said the local group hosted a variety of events over the past year, including the 2022 Region 5 conference, various speakers, cultural events, fundraisers, community service and outreach, and community-building events.
The Recruitment and Retention Award is presented for a large increase in the number of members as well as retention of current members who are committed to the chapter’s mission. The SDSU chapter grew from six members to around 40 in one year.
AISES Partner Service Award winners are selected by AISES staff to honor those who provide exceptional support for AISES’ staff and the organization. Sazue said the SDSU chapter was honored for its work to support minority students on campus through outreach, vocalizing concerns and bringing awareness to various issues.
“These awards exemplify the hard work and dedication our chapter has demonstrated in the past year. We have worked diligently to build and maintain a close-knit family of AI/AN students on our campus, and we will continue our legacy in the coming years not only for ourselves, but for our home communities and our people. We want to be the representation that shows our Indigenous youth that we can do it,” Sazue said.
The SDSU chapter is led by Sazue, an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe who grew up in De Smet. Vice President Julie Valandra is from Rapid City is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Secretary Jessica Begeman is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and calls Martin home.
Treasurer Aubre Westover of Pierre is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Public Relations Chair Oakley Jandreau is from Highmore and is a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, and Tribal Outreach Chair Harley Fischer, of Eagle Butte, is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
The mission of AISES is to increase the number of Native Americans pursuing degrees and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. There are over 4,000 members and around 200 chapters in the United States and Canada.
The SDSU AISES chapter looks to advance this mission on campus by promoting and encouraging STEM education and development. Enrollment is open to any student who attends SDSU and is not limited to students of Native American descent.
“Our chapter at SDSU aims to support, recruit, retain and advocate for Native American students on our campus. Each year, we continue building our family of driven, ambitious and brilliant Indigenous leaders,” Sazue said.
AISES faculty adviser Larry Browning said the SDSU chapter has had remarkable leadership in the past few years, with officers who have been dedicated in their approach to community involvement and improvement.
“Led by Cierra Sazue this year, Traelene Fallis last year and Danielle Arpan the year before, AISES members have developed ways to support each other, have a sense of purpose and community service, and have fun while moving forward,” Browning said.
SDSU AISES members have held fundraisers for various community needs, such as the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter, and promoted multicultural events on campus and at the Pipestone National Monument, while still maintaining good standing in challenging majors, he added.
“I am always amazed at their innovative ideas and hard work to accomplish their goals. It is rewarding that the South Dakota State chapter has received national recognition for their hard work,” Browning said.
SDSU’s AISES chapter holds meetings at 6 p.m. each Wednesday in the American Indian Student Center.