by Stevee Chapman
|Barbara Aston, Special Assistant to the Provost/Tribal Liaison|
Aston first attended college at Seattle University with the intention of studying nursing, but left after a year.
“I would say I was really in culture shock,” Aston said.
Although Aston returned home, she said she always fully intended on someday going back to college and finishing her degree. In the meantime she attended a community college and earned an associate’s degree, later getting married and starting a family.
A few years later, Aston and her family moved to northern Idaho with the intention that she would return to college at University of Idaho. “Even though we moved to Northern Idaho I felt the programs here at WSU were stronger.” She applied for a position in the Native American Student Center and worked part time as an assistant while she completed a Bachelor’s in Child and Family Studies. After graduation she was hired to serve as the Native American Student Counselor and served a total of 11 years in the Native Center.
In 1997, Washington State University established a more formal relationship with surrounding tribes through a Memorandum of Understanding. It was through this MOU that the Tribal Liaison Office was founded, and Aston’s current position was created.
“The MOU was a significant step for both WSU and the local tribes,” Aston said.
She said that from the time that the Tribal Liaison Office was formed, it has seen continuous growth and improvement in many aspects throughout the years. Some of these improvements include the founding of the office’s early outreach program for Native students.
“We work with tribes and tribal schools and set up campus visitations here, and also arrange for their tour and introduction around the different services,” she said. “One of the really important steps in helping to recruit students to college is to get them on the campus. I think right there it helps them to feel like, ‘I can come here, and I can navigate this environment’”.
Aston said after successfully recruiting students to the campus, the office hopes the students move on from the outreach programs and successfully transition into life at WSU.
“What we want to see happen is for a handoff to take place,” where the students shift from working with the outreach coordinator and are introduced to the Native student services as well as other multicultural services and programs around campus.
As far as goals for the office go, Aston said that two main areas she is focusing on include communication and recruitment.
“To me, this past year represents a transition time,” Aston stated. “I think that we are definitely working on our communications through increasing communication with the tribes, students and community. An important piece of that has been creating our website, facebook, and newsletter.”
Aston said another area the office is focusing on is recruitment. The office recently hired a new outreach coordinator. Aston hopes that this year the outreach programs can continue to expand and grow, and the office can become more effective in the recruitment of Native students to WSU.
“We really just want to see more Native students going on to college,” Aston said. “But as part of WSU we really need to encourage that WSU is their choice.”
“If you’re looking for a four-year or graduate education, I really believe in WSU,” Aston said. “I think they can get an excellent education here. There are also many opportunities that are extracurricular, and sometimes those are the places where you learn the most in terms of life skills.”
Aston points out that for Native students, WSU also offers a wide variety of Native student organizations in which they can get involved. Aston realizes that many students may be facing challenges, whether there are things going on in their family or community that can make the transition to college life a difficult one. However she pointed out that WSU has some very dedicated people willing to help.
“There are people that are just very committed to what they’re doing, and I think any place you go you can find those committed people,” Aston said, “I think WSU has a high number of them, really.”
Aston thinks it is important for individuals to find their path in life, but that everyone can benefit from a higher education.
“Higher education can change how people think about things, and how they understand the world; we do live in a more and more complicated world,” she said.