In December, President Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. The director of this new effort will be William Mendoza, a member of the Oglala Sioux and a graduate of Fort Lewis College.
According to a press release by the U.S. Department of Education, the new initiative will “help expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all American Indian and Alaska Native students. The order includes opportunities to learn their native languages, cultures and histories and receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college and a career.”
As for the initiative’s new leader, Mr. Mendoza grew up on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota. He would go on to attend Haskell Indian National University, earn a bachelor’s degree from Fort Lewis College and then a master’s degree from Montana State University.
He returned to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to start his professional career as a high school teacher, but his desire to do more drove him to higher and higher levels of educational leadership. Before being named as director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, he served as acting director of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities.
Part of what Mr. Mendoza will be working on in his new position is improving access to high-quality education programs, especially in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. This idea is something that Fort Lewis College is focused on as well. FLC is among the top 50 colleges and universities in the country in terms of STEM degrees awarded to Native Americans. Fort Lewis also awards more bachelor’s degrees to Native American students than any other four-year school in the nation.
“We're delighted that Bill will continue to lead the Administration's efforts to expand opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all American Indian and Alaska Native students,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in the U.S. DOE release. “His exceptional leadership in reinvigorating collaboration between federal agencies, educators and tribal leaders will be invaluable as we move forward in addressing the challenges that face our American Indian and Alaska Native students.”