YATES, N.D. Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, N.D., has paved
the way for master's degree programs at North Dakota tribal colleges
its latest program focuses on studies on water quality.
SBC Agriculture Division Director Gary Halvorson said SBC is
the first tribal college to offer a master's degree in the state
and, to Halvorson's knowledge, the first nationwide to offer it
in the sciences. The tribal college of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe
was started in 1973.
Inspired by that effort at Sitting Bull College, United Tribes
Technical College Vice President of Academic Affairs Lisa Azure
said the Bismarck campus now plans to offer a master's degree in
education within the next three years.
SBC's two-year master's program actually started in fall 2014,
graduating its first students this past spring. For the school's
next round of the master's program, four applied and two more students
were accepted. The focus of the program is on water quality.
Halvorson said the first graduates have both gotten good jobs
one working as the school's lab director as he prepares to
leave for a job with the Natural Resources Conservation Service,
the other working for an environmental consulting company in Texas.
Bruz Van Dusen of McLaughlin, S.D., was finishing a four-year
degree when he heard a rumor about the master's program getting
"I thought it couldn't hurt," he said.
For his master's thesis, he examined lead concentrate in river
sediment near highway bridges. His cohort studied mercury in river
sediments. After many lakes in the area were closed to fishing due
to high mercury content, the student wanted to find out if the cause
for high mercury in the lake fish was getting into the river, too,
Van Dusen likes the outdoors. It's what drew him to environmental
science. He said the master's program opened his realm of learning
and knowledge base.
When he starts with NRCS, he'll be working on soil conservation
near Selfridge, a job he never imagined himself having before now.
He said the master's program has "rounded me out for the job."
Like many students, Saul Bobtail Bear, of Little Eagle, S.D.,
entered college unsure of what he wanted to do until he took an
introduction to environmental science class. Now, he's a junior
preparing to start his second undergraduate research project. His
first project was a summer research program studying Costa Rican
Bobtail Bear works in the lab as Van Dusen's lab assistant.
He said he would walk by and see Van Dusen in the lab and the research
drew his interest. Now, he's considering pursuing a master's degree
Halvorson said 10 percent of the roughly 300 students enrolled
at the college are in the environmental science program. The degree
involves a lot of hands-on work, which he thinks students appreciate.
Students do two research projects as undergraduates and Halvorson's
analytical chemistry class familiarizes students with the lab's
equipment to measure fluoride, mercury, magnesium, sodium, potassium,
trace metals and numerous other elements.
Van Dusen said he has noticed interest in the program from quite
a few of his fellow students. In fact, the program had been enough
to draw him from a tribal college in Arizona to North Dakota to
SBC sought master's accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission
in education, business and was approved for accreditation in environmental
science. There are five instructors with doctoral degrees in the
environmental science department at the college, which helped make
Halvorson said it has put SBC more into the research realm
a big step that "doesn't just happen overnight."
He said now the school is in talks with NASA about getting an
air quality station at the college so the agency can record measurements
on climate change and the ecology of the area. The agency doesn't
have a station in this region, Halvorson said.
Halvorson said SBC hopes to diversify its master's offering
in the coming years with a new area of focus.
He expects the master's program to keep growing as other students
see it giving graduates "a leg up on getting a job." The school
is aiming to eventually have a six-student program and start a new
class of master's students every year instead of every two years.