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Tribal Colleges and University of Minnesota Partner to Create Nutrition Degree Program

The Woodland Native Americans in Minnesota were suffering – suffering with major nutrition-related health problems such as diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and obesity.  So, in 1998, six tribal colleges came together at the first meeting of Woodlands Wisdom with University of Minnesota faculty to discuss what they could do individually and collectively to help return the Woodlands people to healthier, more traditional lifestyles and ways of eating. One of the ideas that came from the meeting was to provide educational access to tribal people through a two-year human nutrition program.

Now, courses in nutrition, chemistry, biology, math, physiology and food technology are being offered through each tribal college. All credits in the two-year tribal college nutrition programs transfer toward a degree in nutrition at the University of Minnesota. Currently 20 students at tribal colleges are being recruited to complete the baccalaureate degree in nutrition at the University of Minnesota.

“Native people are hesitant to pursue higher education if they must leave their homes and families to find suitable employment,” says Dr. Barbara Graham, director of Woodlands Wisdom. “The cultural, social and economic differences between reservation communities and the Twin Cities make it a difficult transition for our tribal college students to transfer to the University of Minnesota. With that in mind, we are looking at ways for tribal college students to stay at home where supports are in place, while continuing to earn credits toward their baccalaureate degree in nutrition.”

Woodlands Wisdom is using distance education courses taught over the Internet to meet the needs of their students. Efforts are being made to make the third year of the program accessible by way of the Internet and to locate internship opportunities in the students’ home communities.

“At every partner institution, Woodlands Wisdom teams are engaging their communities in the partnership of improving health through a variety of events and activities that highlight the wisdom of our traditional ways in nutrition and lifestyle,” says Graham. “Through a groundswell of engagement, the Woodlands Wisdom model is bringing hope to our communities.”

The Woodlands Wisdom program grew out of Visions for Change, a project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food Systems Professions Education initiative. Visions for Change provided the context, technical assistance, staff support and the first few years of funding for Woodlands Wisdom to get off the ground. For more information about Woodlands Wisdom, contact Barbara Graham at (612) 625-1204, or visit the Web site www.woodlandswisdom.org

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