Cultural Competency Course Aims To Help USU Faculty Better Support Native American Students

Jun 15, 2020

Dr. Tammy Rittenour shares geology of Lake Bonneville with NASM program students in a 2019. Rittenour and her graduate assistants completed the TEACH course in 2019 and participated in the 2020 refresher.
Credit Harriet Cornachione / Utah State University Department of Geosciences

As part of the seventh Utah State University Native American Summer Mentorship program last week, a cultural competency course for faculty was offered to help students receive the support they need on a long-term basis.

The mentorship program at USU has helped increase the number of Indigenous students attending the university. To support the success of these students, a grant was secured from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, HHMI, Inclusive Excellence to provide cultural competency education for faculty and staff.

“One of the things that HHMI asked is how are you going to change your institution? Like we're not looking to change students, we're looking for institutional change, to allow students to be who they are and come into these places,” said Dr. Melissa Tehee, an assistant professor of Combined Clinical/Counseling at USU.

In response, Tehee, with student team Devon Isaacs, Erica Ficklin and Tish Hicks, developed a course designed to build a more inclusive community institutionally. Training for Educators Advancing Cultural Competence in Higher Education was first taught to summer mentorship program faculty last year and was updated this year.  

“I think that's part of the reason too, that we call it a course, and not a training, right? Because people think of a training you do in one setting. And what we know from this work is that having people think about it over multiple weeks is much more effective than doing it all at once and then just moving on,” Tehee said.

Isaacs noted that the refresher discussion focused on creating a culture of competence, shifting the conversation to taking action. 

“It's really about creating that community of people who want to do better. We want to be better when working with students and working with other faculty and people on campus,” said Isaacs.

While this resource is focused specifically on the Navajo culture, the team plans to make both the platform and the cultural focus adaptable to include others.

“So, we're really seeking to empower each person with sort of the, the know-how and the knowledge, the skills of how to continue to grow your cultural competence versus teaching about one particular group,” said Tehee.