Native and Indigenous students from around the state visited the University of Utah last week for the Inter-Tribal Student Association (ITSA) High School Student Conference.
The conference is part of ongoing efforts at the U to reach out to students of traditionally marginalized backgrounds in order to make college more accessible for those students.
“The purpose of this conference is to have students who traditionally don’t have access come to the university as often and really get them to come to feel the campus, come learn of our resources, come connect. That’s the key: To connect with staff and faculty who visually represent who they are,” said Anni Tedder, associate director of the Office of Admissions’ Diversity Outreach & Community Engagement.
About 30 students attended this year’s event and spent the day participating in workshops and panels about applying for college, accessing financial aid and building relationships with other Indigenous students on campus.
Over the past few years, the number of self-identified American Indian and Alaska Native students enrolled at the U has steadily remained in the high 90s, low 100s. Steve Robinson, the senior associate vice president for Enrollment Management, anticipates the university’s new Native Student Scholarship will help increase those numbers. This scholarship will cover undergraduate Native student tuition and mandatory fees not covered by scholarships and grants from all other sources.
“We have a sincere desire to grow the number of Native American students at our school as much as we possibly can, given our geography and our role in the state and our unique relationship with the Ute Tribe, among others,” Robinson said.
For students of all backgrounds, visiting a college campus and having a positive experience plays a significant role in helping that student decide where to go to college, Robinson said. According to Tedder, that campus experience can be even more important for traditionally underrepresented student populations.
“We want them to feel like they don’t have to change,” Tedder said. “We want them to come as they are and to learn. And then we
can also learn from them. The university benefits from having students from the Native American and Indigenous cultures.”
Yellowmoon Vanderhoop, a high school junior from Fort Duchesne, Utah, said attending the conference and learning more about the programs the U offers moved the school up on her list of potential universities.
“It gives me such a warm feeling being here,” she said. “Nothing beats experience.”
For Maddison Murphy, a high school junior from Layton, the conference provided an important opportunity to connect with other Native students.
“The University of Utah made me feel welcome and that there are a lot of other people like me who come to school here,” Murphy said.
Murphy is still deciding where she wants to attend college, but said the U is a top contender and the new scholarship will be one of the factors she is weighing.
“I really like how there’s other Native Americans here making a difference,” she said. “Growing up I didn’t get to see many Native role models. Seeing this today, it really did change my perspective.”