Native students needed in business education

Dr. Deanna Kennedy in front of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, a multi-service learning and gathering space for American Indian and Alaska Native students, faculty and staff.

Dr. Deanna Kennedy, associate dean and associate professor in the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Business, reports that she is one of only 66 Native American business faculty in the United States. “With more than 120,000 business faculty in the nation, we don’t make up even 0.01% of the population,” she said.

Not only is there a lack of Native American business faculty — there is also a lack of Native Americans in business, period, Kennedy said. “We see a lot of Native students pursue STEM fields because it tends to align more closely with their culture. There is a natural interest in studying environmental science and sustainability as Native Americans value harmony with nature and respect for their land,” she said.

Studying business, on the other hand, is more of a jump. “On reservations, businesses are designed to support the community, not to make a profit,” she explained. “It is a completely different wheelhouse.”

Kennedy is nevertheless determined to encourage and empower Native students to pursue a business education.

Sharing critical knowledge

As the academic coordinator of Operations Management and Information Systems in UW Bothell’s School of Business, Kennedy led a partnership between the faculty in the OMIS area and the Muckleshoot Tribal College to offer executive education programming.

“This partnership developed from conversations about the need for tribal members to gain business knowledge to fill their own tribal business positions on the reservation,” she said. “The programming we developed was a practice-based certificate featuring community projects and was held on-site at the Muckleshoot Tribal College campus.”

The 10-week program, taught by UW Bothell business faculty, builds operations management skills through community-based projects proposed by students. These community-based projects have included an Enumclaw Plateau Farmers’ Market and an animal welfare center equipped with a reservation paws and claws resource committee, among others.

“They learn a lot through this certificate program including how to manage projects, optimize business processes and make decisions,” Kennedy said, “but most importantly, they learn that business applies to them, as Native students.”

Kennedy served as the program manager of the certificate program that was offered in 2018 and 2019 then paused during the pandemic with the goal of renewing the program in the near future.

“While I facilitated and oversaw this program, it was also inspiring to work with faculty who were similarly motivated to create programming that was culturally relevant, sourcing projects from the tribe and community,” she said. “The curriculum was delivered in an inclusive way that students at all levels of age, functional experience and cultural backgrounds could engage.

Making broader impacts

Kennedy has acted on opportunities to engage the greater Native community of Washington state, too. As a Native American faculty member, she is motivated to support Native American students as well as other underrepresented minorities. One way she focuses her efforts in this area is by serving as an advisory board member for the UW’s Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

The center oversees tri-campus initiatives to support Native students and faculty, including the Tri-Campus Muckleshoot Education Partnership Committee. “The committee provides oversight for educational partnerships between UW and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe,” Kennedy explained. “From serving in this position, I learned of a need to consider pre-admission support for adult students considering a return to school for an advanced degree.”

After engaging in the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business’ Associate Deans Conference — which convenes business school leaders to address common challenges and, more importantly, create solutions — Kennedy developed a workshop for Native and non-native educators called A Degree for Me: Preparing for College at the Effective Teaching Institute Workshop.

“I learned that we need to go beyond preparing students,” she said. “We also need to prepare their family and community members to make more people aware of the advanced degrees and the school-life balance it requires.”

Exploring job opportunities

Along with expanding education, Kennedy is committed to expanding employment opportunities. She works, for example, with the Washington Employers for Racial Equity, a coalition of employers from across Washington state. Last winter, coalition member Starbucks partnered with UW Bothell to enhance diversity and inclusion by starting a pilot program for students of color.

In the program, students met with Starbucks vice presidents and directors to learn more about their work and how they advanced to their current roles, said Kennedy, who served as the program’s faculty adviser. And, because Starbucks is headquartered in Seattle, students were able get a comprehensive overview of what it takes to operate a company of Starbucks’ size and scale, from a behind-the-scenes look at a roasting facility to conversations with store managers and baristas.

“The students learned a lot,” Kennedy said, “so much so that one of the students who participated was hired full time in the Starbucks corporate office.”

His responsibilities include working with company divisions across the globe to implement an IT change. “This was a win to see him excel in showing his business acumen learned at UW Bothell,” she said, “and I look forward to many more wins in the future.”

Opportunities such as these can solidify the relevance of business careers for minority and specifically Native students,” she said. “Anything we can do to get even one more Native student interested in business is a victory in itself. We have a long way to go, but I am excited to see where this journey takes us.”

Expanding mutual benefits

Kennedy knows she doesn’t need to walk this journey alone, so together with other Native business professors she wrote an article titled Shared Governance of Wisdom: How Tribal Colleges and Native Communities Can Build the Business Professorate. “It’s about how universities can work in partnership with tribal colleges to strengthen the pipeline of Native students headed to college,” Kennedy said.

She explained that this pursuit is important, in part, because Native American communities need leaders who can increase their community’s income. “While there are many governmental and social services agencies within tribal communities, the number of for-profit tribal businesses is disproportionately low,” she said. “Some tribes have seen success with casino venues, but not all tribes have casinos. Also, when tribal communities rely on casinos as their primary source of revenue, that does not necessarily translate into a robust and diverse economy.

“This,” Kennedy said, “is why Native American communities need access to business education that can advance their economic development.”

Students from different backgrounds also bring their lived experiences to the classroom and offer worldviews that are often distinct from mainstream culture, Kennedy said. “By engaging with individuals from different cultures, all students can increase their awareness of cultural differences, become more open to different perspectives and enrich their global mindsets,” she said.

“Students who are traditionally underrepresented in classrooms often become resources for mainstream professors,” she added, “by helping faculty learn about cultures with which they are not familiar.”

Administrators can also benefit, Kennedy said. “When we engage leaders from underrepresented populations in programmatic initiatives, this exposure to new intellectual and cultural perspectives helps us all expand our knowledge, abilities, skills and strategic thinking.”

Future aspirations

Kennedy’s most recent work addresses the need for more research articles about Native American business and economic issues. She and colleague Dr. Dan Stewart at Gonzaga University proposed the launch of an academic journal. Stewart secured a sponsor at his university and a publisher with Ubiquity Press, and Kennedy is proud to announce that the Indigenous Business and Public Administration journal has now produced its first edition. Kennedy is serving as one of three section editors.

In the inaugural issue, Dr. Stewart explained about why a journal for Native and Indigenous scholars is needed.

“This new academic journal dedicated to American Indian and Indigenous business has the potential to affect global change by increasing the quality and relevance of business education available to Indigenous populations,” he wrote. “Supporting the creation and publication of peer-reviewed research focused specifically on tribal business will help generate relevant educational and training materials that can directly affect education and policy in this domain.”

This, Kennedy said, is her goal: to make education more accessible and diversify the workforce.

“I am excited about further investigating and taking on issues that inhibit Native student recruitment and retention at all levels of education,” she said. “While this work is in the context of Native American communities, I know that this work is bringing about insights for broader implications for first-generation students, minority students and adult learners.

“Ultimately, I want everyone to feel empowered to study business.”

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