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NMSU’s Indian Resources Development receives grant to enhance Dream Keepers summer camp

The Indian Resources Development, a program housed in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, connects Indigenous students in the state of New Mexico with opportunities for internships, on-the-job experiences and education. The program has received a Think Indian Community Awareness Grant from the American Indian College Fund. The grant was used during the Dream Keepers summer camp that ran from June 16-28.


Students painting fabric
High school students in the Dream Keepers summer camp paint fabrics in a seminar about textiles at Gerald Thomas Hall at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)
Students using geomatic surveying equipment
High school students in the Dream Keepers summer camp learn how to use geomatic surveying equipment at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)

The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Indigenous students’ access to higher education for a number of years. Their Think Indian Community Awareness grants are intended to encourage institutions that serve Indigenous students to promote the positive message of “Think Indian,” the vibrancy of Indigenous students, and highlight the support provided by scholarship programs on their campus and community.

The IRD program was one of seven programs in the country chosen to receive the grant and even caught the eye of the communication manager of Think Indian.

“This time around was one of the most competitive grant cycles they had for this particular Community Think Indian grant, so we were really excited to be chosen. We’re the only institution in the Southwest that received this grant with the rest of them being in California and up in the Northeast,” said Kyla Myers, senior program specialist of the IRD. “A representative from Think Indian even came to Las Cruces to see the concert and mural we held to close out the camp.”

The camp aims to encourage New Mexican Indigenous high school students to explore educational and professional opportunities. The students learned what it is like to be in college and to have careers in the fields of agriculture, consumer sciences, environmental sciences, engineering and business.

“The high school students learned about different careers and got a feel for what it is like to be on a college campus, live in the dorms and go to mock classes,” Myers said. “They participated in career exploration workshops and were taught how to apply for college and the American Indian College Fund offered a scholarship workshop to help participants identify good places to search and apply for scholarships.”

Kurt Mora, who attended the camp more than 10 years ago, now serves as one of the tribal advisory committee members. He said participating in the camp helped prepare him for the future and led him to where he is now.

“Although it was only for two weeks, I was glad to have accomplished being away from home for a period of time and it prepared me to be away from home during high school and especially college,” Mora said. “I ultimately committed to attending NMSU and pursued a bachelor’s in accounting followed by an MBA. I reconnected with the IRD program during my tenure at NMSU and I am excited to reconnect once again via my participation on the Advisory Committee for the IRD. To take it one step further, I now serve on the Advisory Committee with my former mentor while I participated in the Dream Catchers program that used to be offered for middle school students. My journey with the IRD program from being a participant of the Dream Catchers camp to now being Committee member has seemingly just all fallen in place.”

The Dream Keepers summer camp also had Indigenous counselors leading the students. Two of those counselors were Antonio J. Garcia and Vanisha Sam, who are both currently student assistants with the IRD program.

“Both AJ and Vanisha have done so much to promote the summer program. For example, they recorded ads for the radio that have been used all across the state, and AJ wrote a poem to promote the camp that was used in a hand drum song by Orlando Cruz,” Myers said. “They’re really appealing to students because they’re young like the students we are interested in bringing into our camp.”

The grant also supported two of the activities of the summer camp, a mural and a public concert.

The 36 participants of the camp and their seven counselors designed and painted a community mural that is located at Espina Street and University Avenue, next to the restaurant Pho Zero Degree. The students worked with local artist Saba, from the Navajo Nation and Jemez Pueblo. The theme of the mural shows the vibrancy of Indigenous youth and all the benefits that they bring to our campus and community.

On the last day of camp, June 27, the IRD hosted a free community concert to close out the summer camp. The main guests were the campers and their parents. The concert featured hip hop artist Tall Paul of Minneapolis, spoken word artist Celia Aguilar and guitar and harp artist Abby Nayra.

“We are very appreciative of the support our colleagues in the College of ACES provided to make the camp successful,” said Claudia Trueblood, director of the IRD. “We also recognize and want to thank the campers and their parents for their commitment, and the counselors for guiding and encouraging the students through the different activities and experiences over the two weeks of the camp. It is our hope that participants of the 2019 Dream Keepers continue to use the resources that were provided to them so they can give back to their communities.”