U of A Receives Tribal New Beginning Grant From USDA to Support Native American Students

Marty Matlock
University of Arkansas

Marty Matlock

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the U of A nearly $500,000 to support the Life from the Land Initiative to recruit and retain Native American students at the U of A.

The project leaders are Marty Matlock, professor of biological and agricultural engineering in the College of Engineering; Erin Parker, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative in the School of Law; and Michelle Evans White, chair of the Department of Biology. The total project support with matching funds is just under $1 million.

The Life from the Land Initiative will engage leaders from Native American governments, starting with project partners from the Cherokee and Muscogee Nations, to better understand how to serve the needs of Native American students. The initiative will support a Native American student support director, working with U of A student services. Native American youth are among the least represented in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in the United States. There are four challenges that are common for students from tribal communities:

  • A sense of belonging,
  • A vision and purpose,
  • College preparation and
  • Economic support to complete the degree.

The U of A will work with the Cherokee and Muscogee nations as pilot program partners. The U of A will coordinate efforts at recruiting and retaining through graduation students from Native American communities. These elements include the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit, the undergraduate research experience in ecosystem services (Eco-REU) and undergraduate internships. The Life from the Land elements will be integrated and expanded to provide a support community for Native American students at the U of A to address the four challenges.

The U of A will establish a Native American Student Services program as part of the campus Student Services initiative. The goal of this project is that the U of A increases new Native American student enrollment from 258 in 2022 to 500 Native American students by fall 2028. The project will work to increase current six-year graduation rate of 63% for Native American students to 90% by 2028. These goals are waypoints to a more comprehensive outcome of expanding opportunities for prosperity to Native American students in our region.

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