By: SDSU and staff reports, The Brookings Register 

BROOKINGS – Avera Health and South Dakota State University are partnering on a scholarship program for undergraduate American Indian students at SDSU. 

The Avera Wokini Scholarship is part of a broader Wokini Initiative at the university that offers programming and support to enrolled members of the nine tribal nations in South Dakota interested in gaining access to educational and advancement opportunities. Translated from Lakota, Wokini means “seeking a new beginning.”

The scholarship will support incoming freshmen who are enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe in South Dakota who have chosen a major in healthcare or a related discipline.

The first year, in 2018, there will be one $5,000 scholarship, and this will build each year with two $5,000 scholarships in 2019, three in 2020, four in 2021, and five scholarships in 2022. Avera will invest $75,000 over five years. Wokini-supported students will be given the resources and access to academic, personal, health and financial wellness knowledge needed to succeed at SDSU and in life after graduation.

This year’s inaugural recipient is Morgan Ducheneaux, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. A freshman from Timber Lake, she intends to major in nursing.

Ducheneaux has been interested in healthcare since she was a junior in high school.

“I attended a scrubs camp, which basically showed a lot of different medical professions. I was really interested in the nursing one, so then the next summer, I went out on a limb and applied for a job at a nursing home as a CNA and loved it. I’ve always wanted to do nursing since then,” she said.

Having been selected for the Avera Wokini Scholarship means a lot to her as she pursues her education.

“With the money coming in, I’ll be able to spend more time on schoolwork and not have to work as much. With the opportunities that have come along with the Avera scholarship, that really means a lot, the connections I can make. I think it’ll really help me out,” Ducheneaux said.

Along with the scholarship, recipients will also benefit from experiential learning, internship opportunities and a coordinated mentorship program. Through this mentor network, Avera Wokini scholars will be connected to an Avera Health leader for the purpose of gaining valuable guidance on career opportunities.

“I know that Avera leaders will gain as much or more from this connection than the students themselves, and we very much look forward to these new relationships,” said Avera Health President and CEO Bob Sutton. “This program aligns with Avera’s mission to make a positive impact on the lives and health of persons and communities. We at Avera are honored to collaborate with SDSU on this program.”

The initiative shows a commitment to building relationships with regional tribes, Avera Health Director of Tribal Relations J.R. LaPlante said. 

“Education and healthcare are two vital needs that Avera recognizes and supports in South Dakota and beyond. Avera has been seeking to live out our mission among members of our regional tribes and American Indian communities,” LaPlante said.

“We are extremely pleased that Avera has joined us in providing these scholarships and expanding opportunities for our American Indian students,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said. “Ensuring student access and success  have many important aspects. The Avera Wokini Scholarships help provide stable funding and resources to recruit, retain and graduate American Indian students with degrees that will  positively impact their lives and  their communities.”

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