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Barry Dunn, 2022 Prize Winner

Higher Education
President of South Dakota State University

Barry Dunn’s strategic leadership to expand higher education access for Native American communities exemplifies both the democratic principle of equity and Harold W. McGraw, Jr.’s belief in the power of education to elevate human potential. As President of South Dakota State University (SDSU), Dunn has been transformational in improving college access, retention and graduation or Native Americans. The centerpiece of these efforts is the Wokini Initiative (Wokini means “new beginning” in Lakota) to increase programming and support for people enrolled in South Dakota’s nine tribal nations. Acknowledging that the land given to South Dakota by the federal government in 1889 to support its land grant university had previously been promised to the tribes in broken treaties, Dunn designated annual resources to benefit the heirs from whom the land was taken. SDSU used this sustainable revenue stream to hire American Indian faculty and staff, improve student advising and counseling, develop culturally relevant programs, and build an American Indian Student Center in the heart of campus. Just as importantly, Dunn, who is an enrolled tribal member of the Sicangu Lakota, improved outreach to tribes, tribal colleges, and tribal organizations in an effort to rebuild trust with tribal leaders, and he raised nearly $20 million for scholarship endowments for Native Americans. Under Dunn’s leadership, the university has seen dramatically improved enrollment and retention of students who self-identify as American Indian. Dunn’s innovations set a course for change at the national level. With Dunn’s advocacy, the U.S. Congress created The New Beginnings for Tribal Students Grant Program as part of the 2018 Farm Bill and appropriated $5 million annually. In just two years, New Beginnings for Tribal Students grants have funded $20 million with their 1:1 match to 22 land grant universities and tribal colleges to support programs similar to those initiated by Dunn at SDSU.