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Education Department to partner with Indian River State College

OKEECHOBEE — The Education Department will soon partner with Indian River State College (IRSC) in Okeechobee to create a customized program for Tribal students to attend college together and graduate with bachelor’s degrees. The program, called a cohort, provides students an education, as well as the Tribe with the next generation of qualified business leaders who can, in turn, take over the management of the Tribe’s operations.

The Education Department seeks 12 to 15 Tribal members who have associate degrees, college classes under their belts, high school diplomas or GEDs to form one or two cohorts. The program will result in a bachelor’s degree in either business administration or organizational management and is scheduled to begin in June or August.

“We are looking for students who will enter the program together and stay with it until completion,” said Tony Bullington, Education program manager. “The camaraderie of the group will give them strength; they will encourage each other and push each other.”

IRSC Provost Russ Brown said academic cohorts are common at colleges nationwide and are typically successful. IRSC has offered cohorts at their other campuses, but this will be the first one at Okeechobee.

“The purpose is to serve the community, so if we need to customize a program for a group, we do it,” said Brown, who was the first principal at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School in Brighton. “We thought a cohort would help students commit. We can promise the classes and the progression until graduation.”

IRSC will offer a set structure for classes in Okeechobee and will bring in faculty from other campuses to teach. These will be the first face-to-face, bachelor degree-level classes on the campus.

“It’s really exciting to think someone is taking that kind of step to help our kids,” Bullington said. “We are looking forward to a long-term relationship with IRSC working with our students.”

The initial idea for the program came from Phoebe Raulerson, a member of the IRSC Board of Trustees. A retired educator and principal of Okeechobee High School, Raulerson was superintendent of Okeechobee County

Schools for 12 years and served on the State Board of Education for five. She said that because Tribal kids are comfortable with each other at Okeechobee High School, staying together for college would be a good idea.

“It’s one of the reasons IRSC is so good for them – many kids don’t want to or cannot leave home,” Raulerson said. “This provides an opportunity for them to continue their education and stay here where they are comfortable. A lot of kids don’t want to be away from the Tribe. I think having a bachelor’s program will pay off for them; this just makes sense.”

The Tribe is faced with students who don’t always complete programs successfully, leaving it unable to fulfill its goal of employing qualified Tribal members to run the business of the Tribe. In addition, high drop out and low graduation rates come at a high cost; the cost of the cohort program is less than a four-year residential state college program.

The program is open to all Tribal members, but because IRSC is a commuter college, it is not a residential program. Anyone who qualifies for college can qualify for the cohort program.

The curriculum for the business administration and organizational management business degrees are similar. Business administration, however, incorporates internships into the program; organizational management has capstone, or senior, projects where students must complete projects for a specific business. Capstone projects are designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems and develop skills that will help prepare them for careers.

Bullington said the Education Department has had good response from Education advisers’ forays into Okeechobee High School and through online surveys. The department ultimately aims to tie the IRSC program into the Tribal Professional Development program, which places students in jobs within the Tribe.

“I think it will be in the best interest of the Tribe to have their own people oversee all the things they have going on in the world,” Raulerson said. “They can get that through a business program, and we are in the position to provide the education. It will be good for this community.”

For more information, contact the Education Department at 954-989-6840.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at