MIAMI, OK.--- NEO A&M College in Miami sees an increase in Native American graduates, and it's attributed to one specific program on campus. The credit goes to the recently established American Indian Center for Excellence. It was formed in 2011 thanks to a title three grant lasting five years.
"We improved graduation rates up to 31% since before we were on campus," said Claudia Little Axe, Director.
In 2011, before AICE came along, 68 Native American students graduated from NEO. A year after the organization's inception, in 2012 the number jumped to 82.
"Now we're on track to graduate 108 or more students this year," said Little Axe.
"We feel pretty good about carving out this niche and getting into the realm of making education work for students who are of different cultures and backgrounds," said Rachel Lloyd, Title Three Grant Director.
AICE directors say it's important to offer Native American students a home away from home with a structured support system.
"Coming from a background of low income, no higher education in their family, so they have a lot resting on their shoulders," said Little Axe.
Robynn Rulo is one of AICE's success stories. She's a first generation college student.
"My first year here, I didn't know how it all worked out or anything. So having them here kind of like a parent, they helped direct me in the right direction," said Robynn Rulo, NEO Native American Student.
AICE has also built a successful grant program for students.
"Right now, through the finical aid department, half a million dollars in tribal scholarships for the college," said Little Axe.
Apart from helping students grow academically, the programs also puts a focus on leadership skills. Rulo is now Miss Indian Oklahoma and she gives a lot of the credit to the mentors at AICE.
"I'm not just representing me and my family, but all tribes of the State of Oklahoma and also representing the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women," said Rulo.
Everyday AICE works to create more success stories like Rulo's.
"We want all of our students to have an equal opportunity to succeed despite where they came from," said Lloyd.
Graduation numbers for Native American students at NEO increased in six out of nine programs including nursing, law enforcement and psychology. To keep the numbers strong, AICE is also training all school staff on how to better educate Native American students.
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