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One America - Building Bridges Conference

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Program: Building Bridges Conference, Vermillion, SD
Contact(s): Barbara A. Yutrzenka, Ph.D., Director, Clinical Psychology Training Program, (605) 677-5353
Purpose: To enhance the education of Native American students by integrating cultural values into the academic environment and to facilitate networking among public, private, and tribal colleges
Background Program Operations Outcomes


The Building Bridges Conference is a grassroots effort initiated and implemented by graduate students in the clinical psychology training program at the University of South Dakota. The conference was created to address the cultural, social and academic needs of Native American students in higher education. Organized under the leadership of graduate students involved in the Students of Color in Psychology Mentoring Program (SCIP), the first annual conference held in 1997 was entitled, "Building Bridges: Indigenous Students and Faculty." The conference organizers raised nearly $10,000 to support conference expenses from numerous campus organizations, departments and administrative offices, as well as from the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (APAGS-CEMA).

Program Operations

The Building Bridges Conference provides numerous opportunities for informal, social interactions between students and educators. Keynote speakers present ideas on various relevant issues, including cross-cultural education, research, mentoring and mental health treatment. Small group discussions follow these speeches. Workshops and panel discussions provide an outlet for an exchange of ideas. Other workshops allow students and teachers to discuss issues relevant to their respective roles in the university community. During the first conference, students and teachers participated in a joint workshop intended to bridge the differences between the two groups. Students also choose to participate in poster presentations on special interest topics and research projects. All of the conference's activities seek to provide faculty and other professionals with concrete solutions for working with racially and ethnically diverse students. The conference also creates opportunities for open discussions around topics such as racism and the experience of students of color in the academic environment. Finally, the conference encourages networking among students, faculty, and others in attendance. Nationally and regionally known Native American educators attend the conference and make formal presentations, participate in discussion groups, and provide consultation.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Over 150 participants were in attendance at the first conference, including high school and college students, educators and psychologists. The second annual conference, held April 30 through May 1, 1998, was entitled "Building Bridges: Creating Connections with First Nations Students" and continued to target the educational needs and issues relating to higher education and Native American students. The Building Bridge Website can be found at http://www.usd.edu/mentors/bridges.

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