The Pathways Program

The pathways program

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls work with Augustana University students and faculty during a Pathways Program session.

The Pathways Program is a new initiative aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented youth – specifically Native American students – who pursue post-secondary education and build long-term career and life goals. 

“The Native American student population continues to be underrepresented in both high school graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment,” said Dr. Pam Homan, executive director of Augustana’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “This new program will enable Augustana students and faculty to expose middle school Native American students to the college experience.”

Funded through a grant from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, the program will include sessions facilitated by AU students and faculty.

In each session, Native American students from Whittier Middle School will explore aspects of college student life, including the performing and visual arts, STEM-based initiatives and co-curricular events through sessions led by AU faculty members and students including:

  • Scientific insect exploration
  • An experiment extracting DNA  from bananas
  • Exploring the medicinal purposes of plants native to the upper Great Plains
  • Physics-focused experimentation
  • Percussion and visual arts activities
  • Scavenger hunts designed to help students discover different places on college campuses
  • Recreational interactive activities with AU students in the Elmen Center

A pre -and post-perceptional survey to assess the student level of confidence and information about post-secondary education is given to the participants.

"[This] experience was so valuable for our students. Some who struggle to be engaged on a daily basis were captured by the possibilities for the future," said Dr. Ann Robertson, who works with Native American Studies at Whittier Middle School.

Augustana students say they're excited about the project.

"This is a great project for Augustana, especially students," said Paige Schwitters, Augustana Student Association president. "In addition to helping underrepresented youth in Sioux Falls, this project will be an incredible opportunity for students to expand their education beyond the classroom and into one of our community's most-challenging issues."

Homan said a secondary goal of the project is engaging Augustana University students and the campus community as future problem solvers in developing a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the Native American student population in accessing post-secondary education.


In 2015, Augustana led a focus group with Native American grandmothers around the topic of higher education. Participants said many Native American students do not believe post-secondary education is within their grasp, nor do they understand the value of completing high school as an access point to post-secondary education. The focus group’s recommendation was to provide opportunities for Native American students and families to interact with a college community and a curriculum that considers the cultural values of Native Americans. Native American grandmothers believed that interaction, hands-on experience, and exploration of a post-secondary environment at the middle school level may best afford Native American students the confidence to believe that post-secondary education is within his/her reach.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012 American Indian/Alaska Native individuals represented less than 1 percent of total post-secondary enrollment in the U.S., compared to 60 percent for the white population.

In the Sioux Falls School District, the high school completion rate for Native American students was 36 percent in 2016, compared to 94 percent for predominately white students.