Supporting American Indian and Alaska Native students affected by COVID-19
Since 2010, Wells Fargo has donated more than $6.4 million to American Indian Graduate Center to provide scholarships, support, and emergency COVID-19 funding to American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, University of Colorado Denver student Donovan David reduced his work hours at Littleton Equine Medical Center to protect himself and his wife, and slow the transmission of coronavirus. Shirley Williams, who was a senior at Western Governors University, became a caregiver for the Lummi Nation’s hereditary chief and stayed isolated from others to protect him. The impacts of COVID-19 resulted in reduced income for both students as they struggled with college expenses and household bills.
David and Williams are not unlike other scholars that American Indian Graduate Center serves. The nonprofit has provided more than $350 million in scholarships and support for American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduate, graduate, and professional students throughout the U.S. in the last 50 years. When the pandemic began and colleges and universities went from in-person to virtual learning, American Indian Graduate Center scholars needed financial help to travel home, pay for internet access, supplement lost income from campus jobs, and sometimes travel more than an hour to the nearest location with internet access.
Wells Fargo provided American Indian Graduate Center with $60,000 in emergency COVID-19 funding for about 150 of these students, including David and Williams. “That emergency funding has really been beneficial,” said Corey Still, director of Scholarship Operations for the organization.
Since 2010, Wells Fargo has donated more than $6.4 million to American Indian Graduate Center for scholarships and programming, and its employees have volunteered to review scholarship applications and help with the organization’s Know Before U Go training for middle and high school students considering higher education.
“American Indian Graduate Center is a leader in empowering Native scholars to pursue higher education,” said Dewey Norwood, relationship manager for Wells Fargo’s Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion. “They are paving the way for aspiring young leaders of our nation. At Wells Fargo, we value and promote diversity and inclusion in all aspects of business and at all levels. Our strategic investment in AIGC is helping students fulfill their higher education aspirations. To support students affected by COVID-19, Wells Fargo and AIGC launched a robust emergency grant program and offered additional access to Student Impact scholarships to help students stay in school and graduate. We are proud to work with the team at AIGC as they continue to impact the landscape of higher education.”
‘We understand the effect of what education can do in a community’
American Indian Graduate Center began because the founders saw a need to support Native students through graduate studies, Still said. Since then, it has supported about 1,600 American Indian and Alaska Native students who have received their Ph.Ds. and more than 2,000 who have earned law degrees, in addition to those who have become doctors, reporters, engineers, and entered other careers.
“This funding helped me honor my values as an Indigenous person and continue our advocacy for Indigenous public health through our Native-led nonprofit, while taking care of our hereditary chief who helped guide all our work.” — Shirley Williams
“We understand the effect of what education can do in a community,” Still said. “When a Native person gets their education and comes back, it helps the community, family, and Tribe. We’re not just providing access to higher education, but also knowledge base and policy base and ways we can implement policy at multiple levels. It speaks to access and empowerment.”
Williams went back to school to study Indigenous public health after previously working as a licensed and registered nurse. While attending Western Governors University to pursue her bachelor’s degree, she focused her assignments on gaps and issues among the Indigenous population.
“Before WGU, I almost gave up on registered nursing because the health care system is built on a Western framework; most don’t see health through an Indigenous lens,” Williams said. “The American Public Health Association recently declared racism a public health issue, showing there's a critical need for cultural competency. According to the federal government's Healthy People 2020, ‘place is where health begins.’ Place is important because it’s a root cause of trauma for Indigenous people and nature; we’re inseparable. Whiteswan Environmental was founded to address the social determinants of Indigenous Public Health.”
Williams received two scholarships before graduating in May 2020, in addition to the COVID-19 emergency grant. She is currently running a nonprofit she co-founded, Whiteswan Environmental, and plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in Indigenous peoples’ health.
“This funding was a relief that helped me pay for living expenses for myself and my family and focus on my academic studies,” Williams said. “This funding also helped me honor my values as an Indigenous person and continue our advocacy for Indigenous public health through our Native-led nonprofit, while taking care of our hereditary chief who helped guide all our work."
'My educational journey has been a nontraditional route, but I’m proud I stuck with it'
David has also been worried about paying for his living expenses while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in biology as a full-time student. After growing up in Leupp, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation where he and his siblings took care of their horses, cattle, and sheep, David decided to become a veterinarian.
He took classes at a community college and earned a degree as a veterinary technician before interning at Littleton Equine Medical Center where he currently works. When he began pursuing his bachelor’s degree, he said receiving a scholarship through American Indian Graduate Center and Wells Fargo helped to alleviate the burden of living in a metropolitan area like Denver.
“AIGC really came through and provided me with security and the ability to give my all in my classes.” — Donovan David
“AIGC really came through and provided me with security and the ability to give all my efforts toward my all in my classes,” David said. “I didn’t have to worry much about rent or where my next meal came from. I could sit down and study and not worry about that and improve my grades and chances of succeeding.”
Receiving a COVID-19 emergency grant allowed him to cut his work hours so he and his wife could feel safer and still pay for bills, while also increasing his internet speed to access his coursework. David was also able to help his family who reside on the Navajo Nation by sending care packages with items like masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and canned food.
“The Navajo Nation was hit hard because of the lack of water infrastructure,” David said. “It’s harder to wash your hands frequently. There aren’t a lot of grocery stores around, but we want to keep people at home and save them a trip into town.”
David is expected to graduate in December and looks forward to continuing his education to become a veterinarian. “I’m thankful for everything and everyone that has helped me on this journey,” David said. “My educational journey has been a nontraditional route, but I’m proud I stuck with it.”