A foundation official said he hopes the Dennis R. Washington Native American Graduate Fellowship for students on both the University of Montana and the Montana State University campuses will help students meet the needs of Montana's native communities.
"The fellowships have the potential to produce immeasurable returns for the student and society as a whole," said Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.
Native American leaders on both campuses said they much appreciated the fellowships, which will provide opportunity for American Indian students to develop leadership abilities to their full potential.
"Most of our students plan to return home, to their homelands or their reservation, so this kind of support is invaluable," said Wayne Stein of MSU's Department of Native American Studies. Stein added that often Indian graduate students face financial challenges, and fellowships such as the one funded by the Washington Foundation make a huge difference.
"The money (our students) get from scholarships is often the difference in them staying or leaving the university," Stein added.
Patrick Weasel Head, director of American Indian Student Services at UM and a member of the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre tribes, said there are many challenges in recruiting, retaining and graduating American Indian students. The fellowship, he said, will help encourage Indian students to pursue their dreams.
"Increasingly, American Indian students are considering graduate school, as they see a graduate degree as the key to meaningful leadership opportunities. But the financial obstacles they encounter are often insurmountable," Weasel Head said. "By significantly mitigating the financial burden, the Washington fellowship will make it possible for more American Indian students to pursue their studies at the graduate level.
"I thank the Washington Foundation for its support and applaud its vision."
Both Geoff Gamble, president of MSU, and George M. Dennison, president of UM, joined in expressing thanks for the new fellowship.
"We greatly appreciate the generous support of the Washington Foundation as we know this level of financial assistance can make a significant difference in the ability of Native American students to proceed with graduate studies," Gamble said.
"I completely concur with Geoff that this generous gift will make a wonderful difference for Native American involvement in graduate education," Dennison said. "It seems to follow as well from the willingness of the Washingtons to help people respond to the challenges they confront in life."
Halligan said the foundation funded the fellowships, which will be awarded to students on each campus regardless of graduate field of study, because it believes scholarships open doors that otherwise may be closed.
"The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation strongly believes that access to higher education is the best way to allow young people to reach their full potential," Halligan said. "We are proud to partner with Montana State University and the University of Montana to offer this graduate level fellowship opportunity."
Students interested in applying for the fellowships may find more information and application procedures at the MSU Division of Graduate Education, 994-4145 (1-800) 255-7962 or by contacting the Graduate School at the University of Montana http://www.umt.edu/grad/ or 243-2572.
To learn more about the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, go to: http://www.dpwfoundation.org/foundation.htm