Growing up in poverty on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, college was not a top priority for Angel Williams. She had a faint dream of becoming a surgeon but little direction on how to pursue that dream.
College came into focus when Butch David, Native American Community Liaison at Madras High School, brought her and several classmates to Moscow to visit the U of I campus in 2019 for a recruitment event held by the Native American Student Center, sponsored by a grant from the Nez Perce Tribe.
“I met good mentors, a good support system and learned about the scholarships that they offered,” she said. “One of the things that really influenced me to come here is the community. I realized there are more people like me here. I have people that I can talk to, and I won’t feel alone.”
The close-knit Native American community is a treasure for the U of I. The Moscow campus resides on the homelands of the Nimiipuu people and memorandums of understanding with 11 tribes in the region solidify and guide our relationships. Students are supported through the Native American Student Center, which offers tutoring, networking, financial and academic advising, leadership and professional opportunities and mentoring.
Angel, a first generation student, ventured to the U of I in the fall of 2020 and like most first-year students, she battled uncertainty and apprehension, especially amidst the challenges of the pandemic. But as part of the Tribal Excellence and Vandal Generations Scholarship programs, she received not only scholarship support but also culturally relevant support services designed to foster success at U of I.
“It was my first time away from home with no family around, and I was pretty doubtful,” Angel said. “I thought I wanted to go back home.”
“It is scary for a lot of our kids to go to college because they’re first-timers,” Butch said. “They don’t know what to expect and like a lot of students, Angel didn’t know what she was doing at first, but the U of I liaisons got ahold of her and told her she could do it.”
The academic and cultural support from the staff at the Native American Student Center helped Angel find comfort and confidence. She now serves as a mentor for first-year Native American students and her Criminology 101 class also sparked a passion, redirecting her career path toward law enforcement.
“Last summer I worked under a probation officer in Warm Springs and next year when I’m a junior I’m going to try to get into the Moscow Citizen’s Police Academy (Sociology 415),” Angel said. “I want to go back to Warm Springs and help my community.”
Angel’s journey shows the value of mentors and the importance of community in helping students reach their goals.