President Brian Sandoval hosts Coordinator of Indigenous Student Services Markie Wilder in this fourth episode of Sagebrushers. They chat about her role working with Indigenous students on campus, Nevada's recently passed tuition waiver for Native American students and her journey as a walk-on for Nevada Women's Basketball. Wilder also shares how support for Native American students and faculty has evolved since her time as a University of Nevada, Reno student to now. Sagebrushers is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other major podcast platforms, with a new episode every month.
Sagebrushers – Ep. 4 – Markie Wilder
Join host President Brian Sandoval as he and Coordinator of Indigenous Student Services Markie Wilder talk about supporting Indigenous students on campus, advocating for Nevada's tuition waiver, playing basketball for the Nevada Wolf Pack and more.
President Brian Sandoval: Welcome to Sagebrushers, the podcast of the University of Nevada, Reno. I’m Brian Sandoval and I’m a proud graduate and president of the University of Nevada, Reno. I’m your host of Sagebrushers.
Each month at Sagebrushers, which by the way was our University’s first nickname, we take a closer look at the people, history and future of our university. We explain why the University, ever since its founding in Elko in 1874, has been about so much more than ourselves and why we remain Nevada’s best experiment in understanding who we are and what we are capable of achieving.
Today’s podcast is being recorded at the Reynolds School of Journalism on our University’s campus. In our fourth episode of Sagebrushers, we are so happy to welcome Markie Wilder, the Indigenous student services coordinator at the University of Nevada, Reno. Markie is a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe and is a powerful, Indigenous mother, educator, coach and community organizer. She graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a master of arts degree in educational leadership in 2016. Markie also coaches varsity high school girls’ basketball at Reed High School and is involved with various organizations, committees, councils and non-profits, making sure Indigenous voices are heard, seen and acknowledged.
I’m so excited today to get to talk with Markie about her role on campus – elevating the voices of our Indigenous students. Welcome, Markie.
Markie Wilder: Thank you, thank you for having me today.
President Brian Sandoval: No, we’re really happy to have you, and so I’m going to ask you a few questions, if that’s okay. So first, can you tell us about your role as Indigenous student services coordinator at the University and how you got into that position?
Markie Wilder:Yes, thank you. So, my role here on campus is very complex. There’s 27 tribes here. I’m from the Pyramid Lake-Paiute tribe, and so I try to understand what everybody needs, you know? From Elko, Owyhee, Schurz, Fallon. I’m not the expert and that’s kind of where it gets kind of complex and the Indigenous student services coordinator is one person in our roles. I try to do as much as I can with the tuition waiver – I help process those waivers. I think the demand for college education for Indigenous students just went up because it’s more accessible, so that’s been exciting, but that means me helping families, more families stay here. They want to be here, which is good. I love doing this work and so, I’m processing tuition waivers, helping work with NSHE to help implement the application, then also doing sense of belonging. Making sure there’s a student welcome, we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making sure each department is doing something appropriate for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the powwows, and you can’t have sense of belonging when there’s not many of us, so it’s truly my passion to be there for the students.
How I got into the role, I didn’t realize that it was so rare for Native American people to get a bachelor’s degree, and so when I was going into grad school, I was wanting to be a head coach of women’s basketball, so that’s why I went and got my degree. Then, starting to realize, there’s not many Native Americans even helping Native Americans get through college, so my dream job started to be, you know, I wanted to be in this role that I am. I interned under Saundra Mitrovich, who helped me understand what it takes to get in these roles, what classes I need to do, conferences I need to do, how to network, so she was instrumental in my career trajectory. Then, she got a fellowship and I went and worked for a non-profit for a few years, and then this [position] opened up and so, I’m here.
President Brian Sandoval: No, it’s just remarkable – everything that you do. I want to stop before I get into the next question because you really deserve the credit and I want you to chat a bit more about the tuition waiver/fee waiver for Indigenous students. I have a specific recollection of meeting with you and Indigenous representatives, and you brought forward the idea of a tuition waiver because you wanted to increase access for Indigenous students, so you really were the inspiration, to me, to be supportive of that bill and work with Assemblywoman Anderson to get it passed, but if you would chat a little bit about what that does for our Indigenous students.
Markie Wilder: So, my predecessor, Saundra, she was here for seven years, and then Kari Emm, who works in Student Services, she worked in this role as well, and so they are my mentors. I’ve watched them when I went through school. When I first met with Kari, I asked “What are your dreams? What would you want if you were still in this job?” and everybody said tuition waiver and that would always be helpful for me as a student, so it’s just been a passion of a lot of educators.
Who do we even reach out to? Where do we even start? Community members, Theresa and Brian Melendez of Tribal Mines, they reached out and were doing a lot of civic engagement for Native voting. Made some connections and they got to meet Natha [Anderson]. Stacy Montooth brought us together, and we started a little coalition – every two days, we were meeting. It was fast meetings because it was the last bill Natha had. She said, “I don’t even know if this is going to pass. I’m going to write it, but it’s like a dream bill. We can try again next year.” February through May flew by, like that span of time, that’s all we had to kind of brainstorm on how we were going to write it, draft it, working with our financial aid, but it passed. I got to sit in with NSHE and help write the application process and Nevada Indian Commission, and Theresa and Brian were there as well, so we got to work with a lot of cool people, interpreting the law for the Board of Regents, NSHE. That was all new to me.
The waiver, right now, we have about 61 students using it. They are federally-recognized students, our graduate students went from nine to 20, our transfer students went from six to 16, – so, that means students are traveling back here to use the waiver. We also get to see which tribe that they’re from. We have Walker River Paiute, Summit Lake, Pyramid Lake, all of these different tribes. We’re getting to see where they’re at in their degrees, how we’re helping them. The data part is kind of fun to me because we never got to see what tribes we had.
President Brian Sandoval: That’s remarkable and that leads me to my next question. Looking at your own personal experience as a student and now a faculty member, how have you seen the educational experience for Indigenous students on our campus change over time and what do we need to do, given the addition of these wonderful students?
Markie Wilder: I came here in 2012-2016, and just from 2016 to now, there was only Kari Emm and Saundra Mitrovich as the Native women on campus – they were the only other two Native people that I could connect with. Now, we have Dr. Harry, Dr. Running Wolf, Chisa Oros in GRI, Andrew Toby in the School of Medicine, Susan Kinder in Chemistry. There’s like six of us, though, which is really cool because I can point students to them. There’s other people that can reach them. There wasn’t Paiute classes, you can take Paiute for a foreign language, now, here. Gender, Race & Identity has an Indigenous studies minor. Next Fall, we’ll have an Indigenous Living Learning Community, so students will have a place to live together. They didn’t even do land acknowledgments when I was here, it was starting, but now it’s a practice, which is really cool, and then the tuition waiver. I didn’t have any of that, and it all just happened in the past five or six, less than that, four or five years. As a faculty member, it’s really cool to be part of these different little pieces of all of that.
President Brian Sandoval: I’m going to change subjects a little bit and talk about something that I know you love very much – basketball. I suppose tell the audience, you were a walk-on basketball player for the University of Nevada Wolf Pack.
Markie Wilder: Yes, I did. Jane Albright gave me the opportunity. I was transferred here from Feather River College, and school was never easy for me, but getting my associate’s degree as pretty easy. I played basketball, and so, I was like, “Oh, I’ll just go two more years, get my bachelor’s degree, and to UNR.” So, I did. I was seeing all these basketball girls walking by, and I was like, I’m going to email the coach because I don’t want to have regrets,” so I emailed and asked her if there was a walk-on tryout and she said, “yeah, of course,” so we did a little tryout – it was two days, I think and I didn’t tell anyone in my family because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t even wear Wolf Pack stuff because I didn’t want to look like I was trying so hard.
Anyway, I walked on, and she said, “Markie, walk-on isn’t easy. There’s like nine guards in front of you. You probably will not play much. You might not even travel,” and she said, “you still want to do it?” And I said, “Sure.” I said, “I was going to come to school here anyway, so I might as well get gear, you know, be part of a team.” And I was still working, so my first semester. Then after that first semester, she’s like, “You got really good grades, and you were working, and you were a part of this team and you’ve been really helpful to, you know, you know your role.” So, she put me on a full-ride scholarship and that, like changed my career, and so I quit my job, soon as she told me that. I created a network of advisors, coaches and teammates that did not want to see me fail, which was really cool. I can’t imagine my life not taking that experience. And being a walk-on isn’t easy; I mean I practiced as hard as them every single day and it was truly fun, though.
I think I found a deeper level of love with basketball during that time because I saw it on the bench – I was a role-player as a bench player and that’s not easy for some people. I wanted to quit all of the time, but as a Native woman on a Division I basketball team, they don’t see that and I was from this community, so I kind of stayed for that reason because if I quit, everyone else would want to, you know. They’d be like, “Oh, she quit; it’s too hard.” So I just was like, “No, I’m going to persevere, I’m going to graduate.”
So, I graduated, and you know, my teammates are some of my best friends. They’re coaching at San Jose. I coach with one teammate at Reed High School. I have friends in San Diego and they’re all from this team. Jane Albright still always cheering us on, coming to baby showers, weddings and such a good coach – truly, it was such a good experience, I loved it.
President Brian Sandoval: It’s amazing to me with everything you do on campus and the history you have on campus and you’re also the basketball coach at Reed High School, so I don’t know how you find time to do all that, but continuing to set an example and really help student athletes be successful, so I’m incredibly grateful for everything you do.
Markie Wilder: Yeah, thank you so much. I truly just love giving back to students and I learned a lot about myself through basketball and it got me here, in this role. So just trying to empower some girls, even if it’s not basketball, but just go on, doesn’t have to be college, but there’s lots you can do in this world and kind of finding your passion.
President Brian Sandoval: Markie, thank you and you’re the perfect example of what I like to call, the “Wolf Pack Way,” …
Markie Wilder: Thank you
President Brian Sandoval: … which is supporting and giving and helping people, but that is all the time we have for our fourth episode of Sagebrushers. Thank you for joining us today, Markie, and thank you for the valuable work you’ve done to support our Indigenous students on campus.
Next month, we will bring you another episode of Sagebrushers and continue to tell the stories that make our university special and unique. Until then, I’m University President Brian Sandoval, and go Pack.