With November being Native American Heritage Month, Kari Emm, a proud member of the Yerington Paiute Tribe, wants us to remember, “We are still here! We are strong, invincible and know how to persevere.” So, it is without question Kari Emm is passionate about her connection to and work with American Indian/Alaska Native students.
Through her doctoral coursework in Equity and Diversity and after nearly two decades working in higher education, Emm has heard stories from countless American Indian/Alaska Native students. “Being in higher education, I have seen firsthand the challenges and barriers students go through, especially those from underrepresented groups.”
In her dissertation, she explored the hardship and triumphs of the students she interviewed. The doctoral degree in Equity and Diversity aims to prepare candidates to be change agents and make an impact through education and research. Eleni Oikonomidoy, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development, is Emm's doctoral advisor.
“It has been an immense honor to work with Kari over the last few years,” Oikonomidoy, said. “One of the main aims of our degree is to bring to the spotlight the experiences and contributions of those who have been historically excluded. Kari’s exemplary research does just that. It sheds light on the experiences of American Indian/Alaska Native transfer students.
“Her work's significance extends from the local to the global level. As we are working to counteract the wrongdoings in both education and research with Indigenous populations across the globe, we do need scholars like Kari. I have no doubt that soon-to-be Dr. Emm will continue to positively impact students’ lives and make significant contributions to policies and practices in higher education institutions and beyond. She will also be a source of inspiration for more American Indian/Alaska Native students to follow in her footsteps.”
The literature in the field also reflects the dearth of knowledge as to the challenges that American Indian/Alaska Native students face in higher education. As she pursued her doctorate in Equity and Diversity, she also wanted to “show the strengths of American Indian/Alaska Native students, instead of their deficits. So many times, others feed into negative stereotypes, and I wanted to change the lens of negativity to one of strength.”
Despite the fact that she faced challenges of her own, she relied on what was instilled in her growing up on the Walker River Paiute Indian Reservation in Schurz, Nevada.
“I am very lucky to have been raised within a tribal community that values strength, character and perseverance. They have made me stronger by teaching me I am resilient. Additionally, they have taught me a strong lesson of being true to myself.”
This connection has remained strong despite spending more than two decades in higher education advocating for American Indian/Alaska Native students; Emm still considers the Walker River Paiute Tribe home.
“I find peace and gratitude for who I am today because of them [Schurz, Nevada].”
Before working seven years on coursework and her dissertation, Emm worked for the Department of Agriculture in public relations, served as the outreach and retention coordinator in The Center for Student Cultural Diversity, taught and assisted in developing a course titled “Native American Cultural and Identity at the University” and was the director of transfer student admissions.
Now, Emm is a specialist for the Tribal Student Program in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. In this position, she recruits students as well as coordinates scholarships, internships and job opportunities. Additionally, Emm coordinates college preparatory camps and takes students to conferences to work on developing their professional identity. She also prepares students for life after graduation as she works to place them in the food and agriculture industry or onto graduate school.
With the support of her University colleagues, community, and family, including her five-year- old son, Emm will continue to change the lives of American Indian/Alaska Native transfer students at the University. Soon, with a doctorate in Equity and Diversity, her research and passion will serve many in the community and beyond.