BROOKINGS, S.D.- The Wokini Initiative at South Dakota State University supports students of Native communities and descent by granting scholarships, assisting with the transition to college and hosting activities focused on culture and tradition.
“Wokini” means “new beginning” in Lakota, and the transition to college can be made easier with help and support from those who share a common culture.
In “2018, President Dunn started here at SDSU. One thing that he wanted to do was do the Wokini initiative. You know, he wanted to make sure that he gave back to the American Indian students here that were on campus. And so, what it was is it’s a program that we have for American Indian students to recruit, retain and graduate,” explains Sarah Badwarrior-Brooman, Director of the Wokini Initiative.
The first step is recruiting students to SDSU from Native communities. “We have our core Native American Indian recruitment that’s based out of admissions, and the person is able to stay here one day out of the week at the American Indian Student Center,” Badwarrior-Brooman adds.
Then, once students start school, there’s a little extra help for the first year. “We have their first year program that we do with them when they come in as freshmen. The program is for, you know, any of our Wokini scholars. So we do have that scholarship too that we do offer for our students, which is really great.”
Funding is comes from a few different sources. “SDSU is a land grant institute, and so a lot of the funding comes from that, but also to the scholarship that we have. We had an anonymous donor to donate about $20 million. We started out 2018 with our 15 scholars and then 2019 we had 18, 2020 we had 22. This fall, 2022, we had our most, which was 43, and this spring we had our first cohort of the spring and that was 13 students. And so right now looking at current students that are accepted, we have like 140,” says Badwarrior-Brooman.
Leaving home can be difficult, especially when cultures and traditions are left behind, but the Wokini Initiative tries to carry those traditions on, Badwarrior-Brooman says. “We take students off the reservation. It’s a huge culture shock to come here, and so what we want to offer that here…any of those programs that we have under the Wokini Initiative, we want them to know that we’re their family, we’re their support here. And so what we can offer is we have this beautiful center here, AISC, so a lot of the students really enjoy that. They are with other Native American students who are going through the same process that they are.”
More information about the Wokini Initiative can be found here.