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August 23, 2007

First director hired for Purdue's new Native American Educational and Cultural Center

Verónica Hirsch
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Purdue University's new Native American Educational and Cultural Center has its first director.

Verónica Hirsch was chosen to lead the university's efforts to provide outreach to Native American communities in Indiana and beyond. Hirsch had previously been at the University of Arizona, where she had most recently served as graduate program coordinator for the soil, water and environmental science department.

"I am excited to be at Purdue and to be part of the process of making the university a welcoming place for current and prospective Native American students," Hirsch said. "I believe that this portion of the country does provide fertile ground to make meaningful connections with Native American students and communities. Indiana is a little bit different in that Arizona has 22 federally recognized tribes, and Indiana has none – although Indiana does possess state-recognized tribes. However, there is a rich tradition of Native American cultural contributions in this part of the country. I'm excited to take on the challenges that this area presents, and I foresee several opportunities for Native American student, faculty and staff recruitment and partnership with tribal communities."

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided a $245,203 grant for recruitment and retention activities associated with the new American Indian Graduate Program. The grant also provides scholarship support to eligible students who enroll in relevant master's and doctoral programs.

The Sloan Foundation is a nonprofit philanthropic institution started in 1934 by Sloan, then chief executive officer of General Motors.

One of Hirsch's primary functions is the recruitment and retention of Native American students for master's and doctoral programs in the STEM disciplines.

By the third year of her directorship, she is aiming to have 28 Native American students fully matriculated into STEM graduate programs. However, her overall goal is to significantly increase both undergraduate and graduate Native American student recruitment and retention at Purdue across the complete range of offered academic disciplines.

"During my initial year, I want to widely broadcast to Indian country at-large the wealth of opportunities available at Purdue University," Hirsch said. "We want to help place Purdue at the forefront as far as creating outreach and research opportunities with tribal communities."

Hirsch's academic and professional background is that of working in areas of diversity. She received a master's degree in American Indian studies with an emphasis on federal Indian law from the University of Arizona. While completing her degree, she worked in various capacities - as a research and teaching assistant for undergraduate and graduate level American Indian studies courses, as a writing consultant and graduate assistant for the Math and Science Learning Center, and as the academic resource specialist for Native American Student Affairs. Hirsch also taught anthropology courses for two consecutive summers for the New Start Summer Program, a six-week program designed for incoming freshmen who qualified for need-based financial aid and/or who were members of underrepresented student populations.

"We were looking for someone who had experience working with student diversity, particularly Native American students, and someone who had experience working with the Sloan Foundation," said Kevin Gibson, a Purdue botany and plant pathology professor and interim chair of the Tecumseh Project, a group of faculty, students and staff whose mission is to increase Native American recruitment to the university.

Regarding the Tecumseh Project, the establishment of the Native American Educational and Cultural Center and the director search process, Gibson said, "We were very fortunate to have been able to work with a dynamic group of Native American graduate students and a very committed group of faculty and administration. Verónica's a perfect fit, and we're confident she will make great inroads in reaching out to the Native American communities."

As part of its grant, the Sloan Foundation wants Purdue to target eastern tribes, Gibson said. Many of the Indiana tribes were forced north into Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada or into Oklahoma. However, small tribes remain, such as the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the Miami Nation of Indiana, the Upper Kispoko Band of Shawnee and the two Wea bands.

Hirsch already has started to build relationships with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and the Miami Nation of Indiana. The population of Native Americans in Indiana is spread throughout the state, in rural and urban areas, which adds to her challenge, she said.

"Indiana doesn't have reservation-type situations, so beyond recruiting, retention is going to be a big part of our focus," Hirsch said. "The Native American Educational and Cultural Center will help foster this, in the interest of retaining native students and strengthening tribal community relationships."

A dedication ceremony for the new Native American Educational Cultural Center is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 6, with Purdue President France A. Córdova  speaking at 10 a.m.

Writer: Jim Bush (765) 494-2077,

Sources: Verónica Hirsch, (765) 494-4539,

Kevin Gibson, (765) 496-7766,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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