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After 150 years, there really is no telling just where a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduate might be spotted making a difference.

Take Riverton, Wyoming, for instance. The small city of about 10,000 people near the Wind River Indian Reservation is home to Central Wyoming College (CWC). The two-year school of about 1,800 students recently filled a newly created position of American Indian student coordinator. The new hire is Rory Tendore, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe who, despite never having so much as driven through the UW Oshkosh campus, is among the thousands of proud alumni making a difference worldwide.

Tendore, who earned an elementary education degree in 2016, was part of the Northern Arapaho Teacher Education Program (NATE) that connected UWO with Wind River Tribal College in Ethete, Wyoming. NATE helped two cohorts, each made up of more than a dozen mostly non-traditional students, earn bachelor’s degrees from UWO while living and learning about 1,200 miles away from the Oshkosh campus. Funded by awards from the federal Office of Indian Education in 2010 and 2012, it opened up doors of opportunity to students with no previous connection to UWO, UW System or the state in general.

Rory Tendore

The mother of three, who lives in nearby Fort Washakie, Wyoming, called the opportunity provided by the program “a dream come true.” Before being welcomed in, she had finished an associate degree and was working toward a bachelor’s through a piecemeal process. Her college career had been one of starts and stops. She was 36 when she finished, becoming the first in her immediate family to finish college.

“For me, I was close enough where the opportunity sounded amazing,” she remembered.

The degree helped her land the new gig at CWC’s Intertribal Education Community Center. As American Indian student coordinator, her job is to create a supportive network and campus environment and connect students with opportunities. It’s a way to help native students, their families, the tribes, the school and beyond.

NATE, which ended after the graduation of the second cohort, was steered by UWO College of Education and Human Services educators Suzanne Doemel and Susan Finkel-Hoffman. The duo, along with other faculty and staff, traveled to the reservation countless times throughout the program’s run to teach.

“(Rory) is so committed to improving education and education possibilities for the people in her community,” said Finkel-Hoffman, who has since retired from UWO. “That’s always impressed me. She’s always looking forward for an opportunity for somebody, for a connection for somebody, to do something better for somebody else and for her community. She’s very committed to her family, to her tribe.”

CWC has roughly 200 students who identify as Native American, Tendore said, and they represent a variety of tribes. Since her start in the fall, she works with students to identify strengths and develop a plan for their future. She also is building on relationships with local school districts to get those students thinking about the options in higher education. It’s work that, because of the potential impact on her community, is very personal for her.

While those students are now her No. 1 professional focus, she’s also continuing to work on her own future plans.

“I am applying to graduate school this semester at the University of Wyoming in public administration and my focus is tribal governance,” she said. “I’m just trying to find that bridge of opportunity to bring people either into the field of education or provide them the opportunity to identify resources that we may or may not have on the reservation to support their transition into higher education.”

Photos courtesy of Central Wyoming College.

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