Adding up: Native American business students benefit from biggest scholarship endowment in FLC’s history
Top image: Danielle Joe, a Johnson Scholarship Foundation award recipient, with her family at graduation.
When Danielle Joe (Accounting, ’20) arrived at Fort Lewis College with her young son, Alexander, the single mother was determined to get her degree. A member of the Navajo Nation, Joe wanted to join her family’s thriving mercantile legacy on the largest Indian reservation in the U.S. But first, she needed to build the skills. She applied to FLC, where a few of her relatives have attended over the last 60 years, including her granduncles, Richard Mike (Biological Science, ’65) and King Mike Jr. (Business Administration, ’73).
“I’m a super nerd, I’ve always fixated on numbers, and I knew I wanted to get my degree in accounting,” Joe said. “The vibe at Fort Lewis aligned with what I wanted, and I just felt comfortable there.”
As a recipient of the Native American Tuition Waiver, Joe didn’t have to worry about tuition cost, but other expenses loomed large. From purchasing books to paying for housing and fees, the additional $13,000+ a year can be a significant barrier to many students, sometimes preventing them from graduating. Joe’s own mother attended FLC briefly before finding out she was pregnant with Joe. Her mother had to drop out due to a lack of support.
During her senior year, Joe got an email from Steve Elias, dean of the School of Business Administration, inviting her to apply for the Johnson Foundation Native American Business Student Scholarship Endowment. Founded in 1991 by Theodore R. Johnson and his wife Vivian Chesley Macleod Johnson, JSF provides financial support for aspiring Indigenous business students.
“Our Foundation was created from the fruits of the free enterprise system operating in a free and democratic society,” reads the JSF website. “We believe that the free market system is the best in the world, but we recognize that some people fail to benefit fully from the system through no fault of their own. It is these people that the Foundation seeks to assist… We choose education because we believe that it is the best means to empower people to become more independent and participate more fully in the benefits of our society.”
Joe’s aunt, a Gonzaga University alumna, was a JSF scholarship recipient, so Joe was familiar with the opportunity. Joe submitted a thoughtful application explaining her situation as a single mother who worked as an FLC student ambassador. She squealed in delight when an email confirmed a $2,000 award for her final semester of school.
“The JSF inspired me by asking questions about what I wanted to do with my life,” Joe said. “And the funds definitely helped with rent and bringing food to the table and taking off that extra load of stress of going to school full-time, working, and being a single parent.”
When the JSF scholarship program was launched at FLC in 2019, 200 Native American business majors were enrolled in SOBA. Three years later, 248 Native American students are enrolled in SOBA, the largest number of Native American business majors in the nation.
In early 2022, thanks to rising SOBA enrollment rates and student success stories like Joe’s, JSF presented a $1 million conditional pledge, challenging the FLC Foundation to raise matching funds. The endowment guarantees support of the JSF scholarship program at FLC in perpetuity.
Chair of the FLC Foundation Board of Directors Faith Roessel (Sociology & Human Services, ’78) shared that the Foundation is “honored to partner with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and is committed to raising matching resources to make it a success.”
“As an alumna of Fort Lewis College who relied on scholarship support and as a donor of a scholarship to support Native American educators, I believe deeply in the power of philanthropy and scholarship to help students persist in their studies and help them go on to give back to their communities,” said Roessel (Diné).
The FLC Foundation and SOBA must raise $1 million in matching support over the next five years. Beginning with the first matching gift from Shane Seibel (Business Administration, ’13), alumni have ignited an inspiring start to the challenge. He will be joined by fellow alumni, friends, businesses, and foundations. This collaborative effort will build more than $2 million in scholarship endowments, the largest in FLC’s history.
“Over the past three decades, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has worked to strengthen the economic development of Native communities by investing in the education of Indigenous entrepreneurs,” said Robert A. Krause, CEO of JSF. “Fort Lewis College has proven to be a model partner in this endeavor, and JSF is pleased to support the college’s efforts to build a scholarship endowment that will benefit students for generations to come.”
A month after the JSF challenge was proposed, La Plata Electric Association stepped up as a significant regional contributor, giving $100,000 toward the goal from its Unclaimed Capital Credits fund. As a cooperative utility, LPEA returns any margins or “profits” to members as Capital Credits. When LPEA cannot locate members who deserve their refunds, these credits become “unclaimed.” Per LPEA policy, these unclaimed credits are then reinvested in the community.
“LPEA looks to support programs that focus on local economic development, and since many graduates of FLC stay in the area, these funds will directly benefit our community,” said Jessica Matlock, CEO of LPEA.
In the spirit of pouring back into her community, Joe returned to her home in Lók’aa’ch’égai, Arizona, after graduating from FLC in May 2020. She wanted to help her grandparents, Hank and Victoria Blair, run their business, Totsoh Trading Post. The Blairs bought the store in 1984, and it now serves as one of only 13 grocery stores on the Navajo Nation.
Joe wanted to prove to her grandfather that she could manage any role at the trading post, so she started at the bottom, making Slush Puppies. From cleaning up the post office to maneuvering around the butcher shop and arts and crafts section, Joe climbed her way up to store supervisor. In April 2022, she filed the store’s taxes, celebrating that her accounting savvy had helped her grandfather get out of debt. She’s currently busy training her other family members to help run the store; even 9-year-old Alexander, who is learning the Navajo language, helps bag groceries.
“Fort Lewis and the Johnson Scholarship gave me, a Rez girl from Lók’aa’ch’égai, the opportunity to grow into the businesswoman and leader I am today,” Joe said. “I’m not making a million dollars, but I am back home serving my community.”
“It is terrific that we have the opportunity to endow this amazing program, which is meant to positively impact economic development throughout Native American and Alaska Native communities,” said Elias. “I cannot overstate the importance of others joining this collective effort at unlocking the $1 million challenge from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation so that we can maximize our impact.”
Contribute to the $1 million matching gift challenge.