Montana State University

Studentlivin'@msu: Michael Running Wolf walks softly

April 14, 2005 -- by Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

The behind-the-scenes efforts of Michael Running Wolf of Birney, one of MSU's most accomplished Indian students, will be pivotal for this weekend's pow wow. MSU photo by Erin Raley.    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Bozeman - Lost among the drums and jingles and flashing colors and murmurs of thousands of people attending this weekend's Montana State University American Indian Club pow wow will be Michael Running Wolf, the man hunched behind the computer.

One will have to work hard to find Running Wolf, a graduate student in computer science from Birney and an enrolled Northern Cheyenne. And that's the way Running Wolf likes it.

"I'm not an out-front sort of guy," said Running Wolf, who is vice-president of MSU's American Indian Council. It is an office he prefers because he isn't called upon to be a spokesman. "I prefer to be in the background. I have always been taught to be humble."

That is even though others might say Running Wolf has a lot to boast about. He is currently Montana's sole recipient of a coveted Gates Millennium Scholarship for bright minority students that provides Running Wolf with an academic full-ride through the doctorate level. He is an honor student who excels at technology but also likes to write poetry. A closet comedian with an understated sense of humor, he's also ambitious. He eyes a job in high-tech on the West Coast that one day will allow him to return to Montana.

"Mike's very accomplished," says Jim Burns, adviser for MSU's American Indian Club. "For me, the leadership skills that Mike brings to our organization are crucial. He has the skill base and ability to make things happen. And, he's very articulate. He's the man you want on your side in a difficult meeting. He's a mover and shaker behind the scenes. I have a lot of respect for him."

Running Wolf credits Burns, the "close network" of the Computer Science department and a large support group for his success, especially his parents, Michael and Florence Running Wolf.

"Education is important in my family," he said. Unlike him, his father, Michael Running Wolf Sr., was an outspoken leader during his days at the University of Colorado-Denver, where there is a scholarship named in his honor. "He was a bit of a radical," Michael jokes. "He fought for retention of Indian students."

His mother has served on the Northern Cheyenne tribal council, but Running Wolf said some of his most inspirational memories of her revolve around a children's charity she founded on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The organization gives out school supplies and toys to children at Christmas.

"They are great people, incredible people really," he adds. "They do so much."

He also recalls that when he was a freshman, moving from the "village of Birney, which is about 12 homes scattered over rural Montana," to Bozeman and MSU was a big change. His parents feared it might be lonely. But Running Wolf said he was well prepared for success. Not only does he credit an excellent education at St. Labre Indian School, but also the summer American Indian Research Organization and Minority Achievement Programs he attended as a high school student.

"So when I got here I knew people and knew my way around," Running Wolf said. "I had people like Jim Burns here to help. It wasn't bad."

He said he was well prepared for success, particularly in writing.

"St. Labre has an incredible writing program," Running Wolf said. Running Wolf likes to write, trying his hand at both poetry and fiction and one day would like to try art, a talent that runs in his family. He said he majored in computer science because he was interested in the sciences, "and I like to play computer games. But, now I don't have time."

Much of that time is spent maintaining the computers in the MSU Indian Club Room. "These are my babies," he says. He also organizes student volunteer time at the annual pow wow.

"Each year we give out jackets for students who have volunteered 20 hours," he said. "Last year we gave out 20-30 of them. People don't realize how much time goes into it."

In addition, to his AIC duties, Running Wolf has been a tutor for Advanced by Choice and also does "data-mining" research on an Environmental Protection Agency toxic database inventory for Rafal Angryk, an MSU professor of Computer Science. His work and curiosity led him to discover a mystery toxic dumpsite on his own reservation.

"I admire his attitude toward helping other Native American students," Angryk says of Running Wolf. Angryk said Running Wolf's work on the EPA project established a good potential relationship between MSU, the Reservation and the EPA.

"He has a really healthy work ethic that more students should follow," Angryk said, adding those qualities helped earn Running Wolf a coveted summer internship with IBM.

Running Wolf said his goal after receiving his master's degree next year is to establish himself with a large company and gain enough experience to return to the reservation or Montana - of course in some understated way.

"My grandma Running Wolf of Browning (Running Wolf has Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Lakota and English ancestors) told me I'd be happier if I'm not famous," he said, adding that he thinks practicality, rather than flash, is the key to getting things done anyway. "Those of us who are moderate change the world."

Contact: Jim Burns (406) 994-4880