Montana State University

MSU student wins fellowship to fund degree in educational leadership

August 10, 2009 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service


Frankee White Dress. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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A Montana State University student will receive up to $100,000 to help fund her doctoral studies.

Frankee White Dress, 59, is one of just 18 Bush Leadership fellows named in 2009. She plans to use her fellowship to obtain a doctorate in educational leadership from MSU. The money will be used for tuition, travel, living expenses and other expenses related to her work.

The prestigious fellowships support full-time academic or self-designed study in a range of fields including public health nutrition, environmental policy, educational leadership, public affairs, history, public administration, marriage and family therapy, museum studies and business administration. The fellows, who are from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, will also use their grants to learn how to improve their communities in a variety of ways.

More than 1,300 Bush Leadership fellows have been named since the first Bush Leadership fellows were named in 1965. The Bush Leadership fellowships are not affiliated with either of the former U.S. Presidents Bush. The Bush Foundation is an independent foundation based in Minnesota.

As part of her agreement to improve her community, White Dress said she plans to establish a small tutoring center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where she grew up. Her ultimate goal is to establish a non-profit learning center on the reservation, housing it in a big, modern building where anyone can walk in to mingle and learn in a non-threatening, informal setting.

White Dress's plans reflect her philosophy, she said.

"Education makes things possible," White Dress said. "Education makes people become the great people they can be and live the great lives they want. Education causes you to think."

White Dress was 23 when she received her first college degree in elementary education, and she said she has been finding herself in the education field ever since.

"I had to grow up and education is the way I did it," she said.

In fact, Bush Leadership fellow administrators say White Dress has a passion for education that has followed her through careers as a kindergarten teacher and Head Start director to her current position of school reform coordinator for the Pine Ridge School.

White Dress, who is Lakota, grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation but left it for about four years after high school. After spending a summer and a semester in Omaha, Neb., at Creighton University, she moved to Dearborn, Mich., for two and a half years with her first husband. They moved back to the Pine Ridge Reservation after that. When the marriage ended, White Dress decided to stay.

White Dress has held a number of different positions within the field of education, including school reform coordinator, director of a Head Start program, and education coordinator for Head Start.

"I thought I'd do something besides education, but I always ended up in education again," White Dress said. "There is something that has been guiding me, something that says, 'education is where you're supposed to be.'"

White Dress first came to MSU in the summer of 2008 for the Indian Leadership Education and Development , or ILEAD, program. After spending three weeks on campus for that program, she said she was convinced she wanted to continue.

The ILEAD program offers American Indian teachers in Montana and several neighboring states an opportunity to earn a graduate degree in school administration without having to leave their jobs. The program aims to place 55 new American Indian principals and superintendents in Montana by 2012, and it has won a $1.3 million federal grant to expand its Montana work and provide services to place 15 American Indian administrators in South Dakota.

Each summer, all ILEAD students spend six weeks on the MSU campus. Throughout the rest of the year, ILEAD participants meet periodically as a group as they complete coursework delivered online. The curriculum is designed so participants can use their class work to solve problems facing their schools. What's more, the program pays the tuition of participants who commit to teaching for two years in a school with a significant portion of American Indian students.

More than 70 students have been involved in the program since its inception in 2006.

White Dress is an example of students in the ILEAD program who are giving voice to Native American educational interests, said Bill Ruff, an MSU education professor who created the program along with professor Joanne Erickson.

"I see students like Frankee leading the way, giving voice to what's needed," Ruff said. "She's giving an indigenous voice to improve how we teach at universities.

"She is a very tenacious, serious and dedicated student," he added.

White Dress hopes to have her dissertation completed by December 2010. She is studying how leadership characteristics, specifically those used by the Lakota people, can be used to transform schools.

White Dress's own definition of leadership is inspiring people to be the best they can be.

"I think leading is working with people and opening up possibilities," she said.

"Education is exciting and life-opening," White Dress added. "I want people to know that."


For related articles, see:
"MSU helps improve American Indians' access to education via distance programs," May 18, 2009

"Program to place American Indians in school leadership roles is working, participants say," Aug. 19, 2008

"MSU program brings Native Americans into school leadership roles," Jan. 31, 2008

"Montana wins $1.2 million to improve Native American schools," Aug. 21, 2006

Catherine Gibbons, (406) 994-6542 or Catherine.gibbons@montana.edu