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Central Wyoming College

CWC bachelor’s degree expected to create opportunities for tribal members

in News/Education
Spoonhunter
Tarissa Spoonhunter is a Central Wyoming College instructor on the Wind River Reservation who also heads up the college’s American Indian Studies Program. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

A four-year bachelor’s degree program at Central Wyoming College is close to becoming reality, thanks in part to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes.

Courses in the college’s new bachelor’s of applied science program are expected be available next fall to all of its students, assuming the program wins accreditation approval of the Chicago-based and peer-reviewed Higher Learning Commission.

The new bachelor’s program in organizational management and leadership would be part of CWC’s partnership – called CWC-Wind River — with the Wind River Reservation tribes to offer college courses in Ethete and Ft. Washakie, as well as on the college’s Riverton and Lander campuses.

CWC and the tribes signed agreements this year to enable students to earn first-year CWC credits toward degrees while attending classes on the reservation, with the courses offered in a face-to-face environment at tribal facilities.

This fall semester, CWC is offering reservation-based courses on intercultural communication, American Indians in contemporary society, Indians of the Wind River and federal Indian law, among other introductory courses.

Tribal support of CWC-Wind River hinges on the college’s site-based effort to bring at last 30 credit-hours of classes of its current associate’s degree program to reservation-based classrooms.

“I’m so excited for these joint ventures and the partnerships with the tribes.  Offering first-year college classes on the reservation will help many tribal members advance their lives and have additional employment opportunities,” said CWC President Brad Tyndall.

 “This is a unique partnership. We are respecting the sovereignty of both tribes. We are making sure they have a big voice, and we are sharing costs, revenues and the design and delivery of courses on the reservation,” Tyndall said.

Tarissa Spoonhunter has worked as a college instructor on the Wind River Reservation since 2004. An enrolled Northern Arapaho member who also holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Spoonhunter remembers CWC’s initial efforts toward offering a reservation-based bachelor’s degree program about 15 years ago.

“It’s always been about creating opportunities for people who can’t leave the reservation or the area, and how can we empower people with tools to make good decisions on behalf of the tribes,” said Spoonhunter.

“I’ve never met a person who regrets or who is disappointed after earning a college degree,” added Spoonhunter, who leads CWC’s American Indian Studies Program. “I’m starting to see people see the value of education. Education brings opportunities. When you don’t have education, you get stuck in situations.”

Spoonhunter said the proposed bachelor’s degree in applied science is being designed to include job skills for people “to work anywhere on or off the reservation.”

“Graduates will have a skill set to get a job in today’s world,” she said. “This ‘applied’ degree will focus on issues that apply to life here, such as natural resource management, business and leadership.

“This degree will be key for people working in tribal programs, casinos and in business,” Spoonhunter continued. “It will provide tools to make good decisions, especially as it relates to nation building, and anyone who has a business relationship with the reservation.”

Spoonhunter grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning, Montana, and she recalled the benefits of bachelor’s degree programs being offered at Blackfeet Community College in Browning.

“Accommodating reservation people has paid off there,” she said. “More teachers have been trained and for the first time in history, the school superintendent and all seven school principals are Native American. And it all started with educational agreements to bring programs to the people.”

The proposed bachelor’s of applied science degree program is “very much a workforce degree,” according to Mark Nordeen, dean of Arts and Sciences at CWC and the college’s lead contact in the CWC-Wind River.

“This proposed degree would provide the next level of skills and leadership that our students with associate degrees need to take a bigger role in their careers in our communities,” he said.

CWC’s bachelor’s degree would include two areas of emphasis, tribal leadership and business/entrepreneurship. 

“For us, it’s quite simple. We have hundreds of people in our community with associate degrees, and they want to advance in their careers and their lives,” Tyndall said.

Tyndall and Nordeen said about half of CWC’s students are enrolled in career and technical education (formerly called vocational) degree or certificate programs.

“Many of these students and graduates need organizational management and leadership training to step up and out of their current situations, and this flexible degree program would apply to students just out of high school, students with a degree from a community college, and people out there working in the world with, maybe, an associate’s degree in applied science,” Tyndall said.

College enrollment numbers support CWC’s effort toward offering the college’s site-based bachelor’s program for reservation and county residents.

In 2018-19, the last complete academic year at CWC, 2,618 students were enrolled in credit courses, said Louisa Hunkerstorm, CWC Director of Institutional Effectiveness.  Of those, 250 students, or 9.5 percent, were American Indian.

CWC’s American Indian enrollment numbers are undoubtedly higher than 9.5 percent, because race and ethnicity disclosures are optional. But CWC’s 250 American Indian students in 2018-19 represent nearly half of the 553 reported American Indian enrollments at Wyoming community colleges.

CWC’s accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission to assess its readiness for the proposed bachelor’s program is scheduled for either December or January, Tyndall said.

This comes after the college gained approval over the last year from CWC faculty and trustees, the Wyoming Legislature and the Wyoming Community College Commission.

“This really is an economic development proposition,” said Tyndall. “About 70 percent of our high school graduates are moving out of the state. With this degree, a graduate could start his/her own company, or could bring value-added leadership to a business or government. Graduates would be equipped to thrive, and not just survive, in our communities.”

Nordeen said degree programs offered on the reservation will fulfill goals of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, including “better educated people and broader educational backgrounds.”

“Seventy percent of CWC students are part-time, site-bound people, and the reservation is largely a site-bound community,” Tyndall said. “This new degree is not meant to hurt the University of Wyoming. Instead, it’s addressing the 70 percent of our community that is site-bound. As a community college, we want to build capacity in the community.”

Spoonhunter said the idea of an expanded knowledge base is vital in offering CWC degree programs, including the proposed bachelor’s program, on the Wind River Reservation.

“Degree programs are a tool to help tribal leadership, and to help the reservation,” said Spoonhunter, who believes education-based relationships could lead “to more ‘we’ conversations to help all Fremont County communities thrive in the future.”

“A lot more ‘we’ conversations than ‘we versus them’ conversations would benefit all of us,” Spoonhunter said. “Understanding the complicated relationship between the tribes and federal government is not only relevant to the reservation, but to everyone.”

Miraculous Wyoming cowgirl recovering after suffering “100% fatal” neck injury

in News
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By Chuck Coon, Cowboy State Daily

Dakotah Winsor’s little dog perished along a lonely stretch of highway between Casper and Shoshoni in late February and the 20-year-old is struggling with that loss while her family and friends are thankful Dakotah is alive and able to walk after sustaining a neck injury that doctors in Denver say was “100 percent fatal.” The lead surgeon, in fact, told the Winsor family he’d only seen that specific injury in autopsy rooms.

The Kaycee, Wyoming cowgirl was driving back to school at Central Wyoming College in Riverton from a barrel racing event in Wright when her rig jackknifed on a patch of black ice and was blasted into a ball of fire by a propane truck. Passersby pulled Dakotah from the wreckage believing she had not survived. Paramedics and firefighters arrived and did their jobs prior to a flight-for-life to Casper. The truck driver wasn’t hurt.

Dakotah’s parents knew their responsible daughter would call or text immediately upon arriving in Riverton but when she didn’t mom Kelly Winsor’s instincts screamed that something was terribly wrong. They eventually spoke with a state trooper friend in Kaycee and he confirmed the young woman was seriously injured and had been flown to Casper where it was quickly determined another flight was in order this time UCHealth’s Trauma Center in Denver.

The Winsor family was with Dakotah through it all and Kelly spoke about the ordeal after returning to Kaycee this week. She allowed our usage of photos that have chronicled her daughter’s miraculous recovery since the flight to Denver. She is now in a rehab program in Casper.

Dakotah plans to rejoin the Central Wyoming College nursing program and Rustler rodeo team next fall running barrels, tying goats and may be adding breakaway roping to her repertoire. She is rooted deeply in her Christian faith and the entire family is overwhelmed by all who’ve offered helping hands and financial support since the accident which thanks to a 1998 steel Titan trailer left Dakotah’s horse uninjured.

Riverton brothers set their sights on Tinseltown: Central Wyoming College offers transferable film production degree

in News/Education
Man with video camera recording video, ALT=video production, Central Wyoming College
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By Ike Fredregill
Cowboy State Daily

Inspired by their father’s acting career and passion for the film industry, two Riverton brothers — Boone and Copeland Williams — have their eyes set on the silver screen, but only if it means they can work together.

“We’re kind of a package deal, I guess,” Boone, 21, explained. “It works well, because I can push his buttons and he can push mine, but we’re family, so we can’t give up on each other.”

The film industry can be a difficult trade to break into, especially for two brothers living in the middle of Wyoming — a state known for its vast landscapes, western culture and lack of representation in film.

But as fortune would have it, the middle of the state is the perfect, and possibly only, place for someone pursuing an education in cinematography.
Central Wyoming College is the only post-secondary school in the state to offer a degree in film production, according to Jeremy Nielsen, CWC’s associate professor of film.

“There’s not a large film industry here in Wyoming,” Nielsen said. “As far as I know, I’m the only film professor in the state.”

The Williams brothers are slated to graduate from the program in spring, and with degrees in hand, Copeland said they will either transfer to a university with a film production program or join the military, but they won’t go their separate ways.

“I’m not sure we’d find better success if one of us were to go one place and the other to another, because the best ideas we’ve put forward, we worked on together,” Copeland, 25, said. “We’re probably far more likely to be successful together than apart.”

Wyoming doesn’t have a strong presence in the film production industry because, in part, residents don’t place high value on arts careers, Nielsen theorized. 

“The things that Wyomingites tend to value are not always artistic endeavors,” he said. “Convincing people to sign up for a course that isn’t seen as productive as engineering or business can be a challenge.”

In his seventh year at CWC, the 42-year-old film professor said he is working to change that. When Nielsen first started at the community college, he said the film production program averaged about six students a semester. Nowadays, around 24 students could be enrolled in the program at any given time, Nielsen said.

Shortly after he moved to Riverton from Utah, the Wyoming Office of Tourism recognized the potential of the film program’s ability to build film industry infrastructure within the state, increasing the likelihood of attracting large movie producers, and it invited Nielsen to join the Wyoming Film Finance Committee. 

“The Wyoming Office of Tourism wanted to boost the number of films shot in Wyoming,” he said. “They came up with a multi-prong approach — we need infrastructure, a film school and to incentivize film production.”

One of the largest challenges to shooting movies within the state is a lack of experienced camera crews, lighting specialists and stage hands, but the film production program could remedy that. 

“If you bring people in (from outside the state), you have to start paying them on a different structure and housing them and it gets a bit complicated,” Nielsen explained. “In some cases, film companies will bring their own crews, but it’s often just for a day or two.”

A large production set could employ more than 100 people at a time, and even independent film companies often hire about 20 to 30 production specialists, he said. 

“It’s an incredibly public art form — it is consumed by the public, but it is also created by the public in that it is not a single piece of art created by single person for a specific audience,” Nielsen said. “The jobs are very specialized. There’s a crew on a set that’s responsible for the lights, but there’s also a whole other crew responsible for the shadows.”

Being able to provide people experienced enough to fill these rosters is an important factor in attracting film producers.

Enter stage right: Nielsen’s students.

“On the first day of class, I put a camera in their hands and tell them we’re making a movie today, and we’re watching it today,” Nielsen said. “The film industry is more about experience than anything else, and I want my students to feel competent around all the equipment they may encounter when they leave here.”

One of the ways he’s recently helped CWC film production graduates further their career is by changing the nature of the program.

“The degree has changed from a technical studies certificate — offered in the same vein as automotive or welding courses,” Nielsen said. “I’ve worked to develop the program into a transfer degree.”

Unfortunately, the University of Wyoming doesn’t offer a film production degree, so Boone and Copeland will need to transfer elsewhere to continue their education.

Leaving the state isn’t what Boone had in mind when he started the CWC program last semester.

“I’ve lived in about 20 different places,” he said. “But this is where I was born, and this is the place I like the most, so this is where I’m from.”

After moving to Riverton, Boone and Copeland’s father decided to dabble in some college courses, Copeland said.

“I had just moved back in, and I was kind of directionless,” he recalled. “My dad used his GI Bill to take some of the film classes and told me to give a shot, even if for just one semester. And that kind of started all this.”

The family has talked about starting a film production company, but Boone and Copeland need to finish their education first, which means leaving home. 

“I see Wyoming as having great potential,” Boone said. “I don’t know how exactly to go about it, but I’d like to put my experience to use here and open some of that potential.”

Boone said the brothers have their eyes set on the University of Utah’s film production courses, but if the school doesn’t take both of them, they’ll join the U.S. Air Force and use their service benefits to further their careers.
“Either we both go to Utah, or we both join the military,” he said.

Copeland said the two developed a strong bond early in life when their parents divorced, but while other siblings often grow independent through the years, he and Boone’s relationship brought them closer together.

“Since we were kids — I was like 11 and Boone might’ve been 4 — we spent a lot of time together,” he explained. “We share a lot of the same interests. Working together, we know how to bounce ideas off each other and move toward something we both like.”

While the brothers bump heads on occasion, they fervently agreed the CWC film production program was one the best choices they made.

“I’m taking these classes because I want to learn the stuff, not because I need it for a degree,” Copeland said. “One of the things I like most — I hate homework most of the time — but the assignments in the film program are things I actually care about.”

Boone added, “I love this program. Most other college classes don’t really engage me, but more than that, they don’t offer the hands-on learning opportunities I get in film production.”

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