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Native American students celebrated for 'sources of strength' in research

Researchers at New Mexico State University are looking for Native American students who are willing to participate in a study that aims to identify cultural factors and core values that help these students succeed in the university environment.

Don Pepion, an anthropology professor at New Mexico State University, is working to understand the cultural factors behind Native American student retention (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips).

"There are some sources of strength that people use to help them persist in college and graduate," said Don Pepion, an anthropology professor at NMSU.

The project was initiated by the Department of Anthropology and a professor from the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology was invited as a co-investigator. Researchers will engage in participatory action research as they determine the resilience that Native American students use to remain in college.

"What makes it different is that the people you're studying with actually participate in the study," Pepion said. "So instead of the researcher being separate from the folks that they're studying, this time they're participating with them in a study."

Researchers will record and analyze information collected from small groups of five or six students they will meet with periodically throughout the semester. Among the questions, students will be asked is, "What is it like to be a Native American attending NMSU?"

"I just think these core values live in us as we look at education through the eye of indigenous people through their experiences," said Lisa Grayshield, an assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology. "We get a little closer to the strengths that allowed us to be here today."

The research team consists of Pepion and Grayshield, as well as Kandis Quam, a biology major; Kathryn Koerschner and Amanda Catalano, graduate students studying anthropology; Daniel Lopez, a counseling and guidance graduate student; Anita Mihecoby, a doctoral student in the College of Education; Jaime Geronimo Vela, a doctoral student of Plant and Environmental Sciences; and Maria A. Blain, a graduate student in history.

Participants in the study will have the opportunity to talk about their experience in the study Oct. 26-30 at the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) Conference in Albuquerque and February 2012 at the New Mexico Higher Education Assessment and Retention Conference (NMHEAR).

All personally identifiable information will be kept confidential and only collective data from the groups will be included in the study results. The study has been approved by the NMSU Institutional Research Board.

The research is sponsored through an IDEA grant from the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President Wendy Wilkins.

For more information or to volunteer for the study, contact Don Pepion at dpepion@nmsu.edu or 575-650-6712.