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Tribal college plots next five years

Once a member of the first class of students to graduate from the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College campus in Cloquet, Roxanne DeLille went on to u niversity in Duluth and later committed five years to the tribal college at the request of its founding president, the late Jack Briggs.

"Twenty-five years later, closer to 30, I'm still here," DeLille said.

As dean of indigenous and academic affairs, DeLille described herself as a big-picture person who likes to dream big. For that, she was the right person to discuss the college's new five-year strategic plan.

"We've got many beautiful minds here and crazy-hard-workers, but we all think differently," she said. "One person can't plot something out into the future. It takes all of us. That's the goal of the strategic plan."

Last week, the college shared a sneak peek at its 2023-28 Strategic Plan with the Pine Knot. Started in the fall of 2022 by a strategy committee, working with the Northspan Group of Duluth, the strategic plan yielded calls for stronger financial partnerships and greater community collaboration, including increasing the number of local employer-funded training programs. The strategic plan also calls for greater student input across many facets of the college.

Among its highlights, the strategic plan calls for the establishment of monthly meetings with the local Band, development of a graduate follow-up tool to gain information on where grads are employed, the reestablishment of a grants office, a plan to create more Ojibwe signage on campus, and a lower carbon footprint.

Of five strategic directions highlighted in the plan, one stood out: Creating a campuswide holistic wellness model.

"There is nothing more important than being centered in yourself and being able to walk in a world that's really complex and challenging," DeLille said.

The plan calls to enhance student life programming, expand funding for credit-based Anishinaabe courses, expand child care services on campus, and introduce health services to campus.

Currently, the campus partners with Li'l Thunder Learning Center for child care.

"The reality is it isn't sufficient," DeLille said.

Regarding credit-based Anishinaabe courses, the Anishinaabe language courses are among the college's fastest-growing programs, but there could be more, including art, food and even medicine.

"We have an indigenous psychology class and I think we could do way more to be looking at indigenous therapies," DeLille said. "We have a nursing program, but there's nothing for indigenous medicine."

Steeping Ojibwe culture into all things is among the key takeaways from the strategic plan.

"The integration of Ojibwe culture is essential to the plan's success and has a role to play in each strategic direction," the plan says.

While student wellness is important at any college, it's particularly so at an institution with an open door like the combined tribal and community college.

"We get from one extreme to the next here," she said, describing the college's wide swath of nontraditional students, including some coming from addiction and homelessness. "Many have had some type of struggle where university isn't where they would fit. We provide the fit. We provide the space for them to launch off and dream big."

The college is rooted in a set of core values, DeLille said, including respect, integrity and compassion.

"Who we are is unique," she said. "We're student-centered all the way and we work really hard to create an environment where people are willing to learn about others."

To do that, one has to be comfortable with themselves, first - the focus of wellness.

"It's all part of being a whole human being," DeLille said.

The strategic plan will soon be published on the college's website. Now that the roadmap into the near future is in place, the implementation of the plan and carrying out its action steps comes next.

Committees, like a wellness committee, will be created to tackle certain aspects of the plan. The establishment of an alumni group and bringing student government officers into campus governance are other outcomes of the plan.

"Why wouldn't we ask students in to be part of a process that really is about their lives?" said DeLille, to conclude the interview.

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