Vision for Higher Education: Joshua Shawnee, Education & Social Services Director

Joshua Shawnee

Writer: Princella Parker RedCorn

Along with rolling out several new citizen services earlier this year, the Shawnee Tribe Higher Education Awards Program was officially reinstated. The Tribe has updated the education department’s programmatic scope, student award amounts and eligibility guidelines, and the application process. Joshua Shawnee joined the administrative team in March and has already made a huge impact in his time on staff. I sat down with him last month to learn more about him and his vision for the department.

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Joshua, you’ve had quite a journey at Team Shawnee so far—you started at the front desk as the Administrative Assistant, quickly moved into serving as our Higher Education Director and now you’re taking on even more duties as the Education and Social Services Director. You bring years of progressive experience in various settings to the Tribe. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Joshua Shawnee: Of course, my name is Joshua Shawnee. I come from the Shawnee and Delaware peoples and am proud to be an enrolled member of the Shawnee Tribe. In addition to my role as Education Director, I also serve as the Pastor of the Parish Church of St. Jerome in Tulsa, OK and Vicar General of the Society of Mercy. I come to this position with roughly ten years of experience in Higher Education, including classroom teaching, community education, and education administration. I am a member of the National Indian Education Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, and the Western History Association. It is an honor to serve our tribal citizens in this important capacity. I hope to do so with distinction!

We are lucky to have you in this role! Can you tell me a little more about your background specifically in higher education?

JS: I am a perpetual student with a passion for higher education. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Theology from St. Gregory’s University with an emphasis in Liturgical Studies and Church Music, a Graduate Diploma in General Theological Studies from Phillips Theological Seminary, and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Emporia State University with dual emphases in Archives and Administration. Finally, I am currently in the thesis phase of a Master of Theological Studies degree, also from Phillips, with an emphasis in Religious History. I am the recipient of a smattering of awards, including an Official Citation from the Oklahoma State Legislature for excellence in education and the Indian Student Award from the Western History Association. I have presented research at the American Society of Church History conference and the Disciples of Christ History conference and am currently preparing a panel presentation for a conference on genocide and mass violence in the public imagination at Metropolitan State University in Denver. I hope to begin doctoral study this fall. 

That’s quite the résumé—niyaawe for sharing. I’m curious, since you began in the Higher Education Department, what has the position been like for you; what kind of requests have you received?

JS: I have had a blast serving in this position and getting to know Team Shawnee. This position requires a wide variety of skills and aptitudes, making it really engaging and fulfilling work. It really is a “dream job” for me. I’m happy to report that since stepping into this role, we have processed 112 Higher Education awards totaling nearly $250,000 in education assistance for our tribal citizens! This is something our tribal members and their elected and employed leadership should be exceedingly proud of.

We’ve also participated in Tribal consultation with Epic Charter Schools, worked with Matt in Information Technology to install an “Application Station” in the Education office, collaborated with Human Resources to brainstorm an internal education and professional development program for tribal employees, and guided Communications in revising our webpage and application packet for the Summer 2022 application cycle.

Finally, we’re moving toward a four-phase “education life-cycle” approach to our Higher Ed program that I think will strengthen and expand the support we offer our students and their families. It has been a busy but productive few months. And we’re just getting started!

You mentioned an “education life-cycle” approach to the higher education program. Can you describe the goals for each phase and walk us through your vision for the Higher Education Department?

JS: Phase 1 will focus primarily on College and Vocational School prep. This phase will utilize one-on-one consultation with students and their families to assist the student in assessing aptitudes and interests and in exploring relevant career paths. This phase will culminate in a flexible “Educational Pathway” designed to meet the student’s educational and vocational goals. Finally, we hope to utilize this phase to assist students in applying for college, trade schools, or other vocational training programs. Phase 1 will serve as the launchpad for our Higher Education program.

Phase 2 will focus on “Funding Your Future.” We plan to use Saturday workshops in the summer, fall, and spring to introduce students and their families to their options for educational funding, including government grants, student loans, and relevant scholarships. We will also provide students and their families with assistance in completing the FAFSA, student financial aid applications, and the application for Higher Education assistance with the Shawnee Tribe. Our goal in Phase 2 is to encourage our tribal citizens to be informed, responsible borrowers who complete their educational goals with minimal student loan debt.

Phase 3 focuses intentionally on Higher Education success and retention. Using biannual one-on-one consultation and referral, we will connect students in Phase 3 with student support services (like tutoring or counseling) at their higher education institutions and in their wider communities. We also hope to use this phase to assist students in identifying relevant professional internships and mentoring programs to supplement their educational program. Finally, the end of Phase 3 will focus on assisting the student with interview and professional development skills to assist them in entering the workforce or applying for further study. The goal of Phase 3 is to do everything we can to ensure that our students are successful in attaining their educational and vocational goals.

Phase 4 is my favorite phase of our evolving Higher Education program. It’s the phase where we get to celebrate student success! I’m working with a small group of tribal citizens who are designing a graduation stole that we can gift to graduating students along with financial assistance for those who need assistance in purchasing a cap and gown. Phase 4 will also include an intentional conversation about “giving back” to the Shawnee Tribe through professional service, volunteerism, and cultural engagement. We want our graduates to invest their time and talents in the Shawnee people who have invested so generously in them. Finally, we are planning an annual banquet to honor our graduates and celebrate graduation as both a personal rite of passage and an occasion for communal celebration. Higher education is hard work. Let’s make sure we celebrate as often as we can along the way!

Love the idea of academic celebration and bringing it back to the community. What do you hope the timeline for the phases will be?

JS: As with any substantial multi-phase program, we want the “rollout” to be intentional, measured, and timely in the hopes of ensuring program reception, utilization, and success. Ideally, we will begin taking applications for students to enter Phase 1 of our program as early as the fall of 2022. Our first Phase 2 funding workshop is also scheduled for this fall. We will begin student Phase 3 consultations in the 2023 new year and hope to host our first Phase 4 graduation banquet in the spring of 2023. It is our hope that all of our students will opt into this robust program in addition to making use of our generous Higher Education award program, but our focus will be on college seniors, recent high school graduates, and persons pursuing Higher Education for the first time or as a means of professional growth or transition. The program is ultimately set up where students may enter a relevant phase in the cycle at any time. Flexibility and adaptability are essential for the success of any Higher Education program, as educational pathways are rarely linear and uninterrupted.

What vision do you have for the long-term future of the Higher Education department?

JS: Put simply, my goal is that in ten years, the Shawnee Tribe will be a national leader in Higher Education programming and student success! This four-phase “education life cycle” program is just the firm foundation upon which our Education programs will be built. I also envision collaborative relationships, programs, and initiatives with our Language department, our Cultural Center, and other departments within the Shawnee Tribe. I would also like to see us engaged with tribal and nontribal educational initiatives and organizations on the local, state, and federal levels. I can’t wait to see how our Department of Education grows and evolves to meet the needs of our tribal citizens and the wider world. Our Higher Education program will be instrumental in shaping the already bright future of the Shawnee Tribe. I am honored to have a small share in this important work.

The Fall 2022 Application for Higher Education Awards is currently open, with an August 15 deadline. Keep a lookout for Spring 2023 Award Applications and other forthcoming programs from Joshua and Team Shawnee.

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