Lekan Oguntoyinbo in Diverse Education. Discussion »
WHITTIER, CALIFORNIA As a student at Whittier College, Robert Jacobo relished learning more about Native American culture through courses in history and anthropology. But it was a business management course that helped him make up his mind about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
“The professor was also doing some consulting for an Indian tribe,”says Jacobo, a member of the Fort Mojave Indian tribe.
“He took me on one of his consulting trips.”
That trip, he says, showed him for the first time how business practices helped the tribe and its businesses.
Today, Jacobo, who graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor's in business administration, works as catering manager for the Avi Casino and Resort in Nevada.
In many respects, Jacobo's story is the exception among American Indians. But his experience in college may also be a key tool to making it less so and steering more college-bound American Indian youth onto business management education.
Even more so than other minority groups, American Indians are largely absent from corporate boardrooms, executive positions in major corporations and are rare even in many small and medium-sized businesses.
In business colleges and in the business professoriate, the numbers are also dismal. Of the total number of students affiliated with the Ph.D. Project, a program that aims to steer more people of color into teaching business at the college level, only 12 American Indians were in enrolled in doctoral programs in Fall 2011. In contrast, there were 243 African-Americans and 109 Hispanic-Americans. And anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers among MBAs and at the undergraduate level are paltry as well.
If there's a glimmer of hope in business management for American Indians, it is in the tribal colleges. Between Fall 2003 and Fall 2010, the number of business graduates from tribal colleges rose 39 percent, according to Carrie Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. During that same period, overall graduation in business programs, including certifications, associate and bachelor's degrees, rose 25 percent.
But if a small group of business and management professors at several universities around the country have their way, the number of American Indian students majoring in business and teaching business at the university level will increase significantly.
Amy Klemm Verbos, an assistant professor of management at the University of South Dakota; Deanna Kennedy, an assistant professor of operations management at the University of Washington Bothell; Joseph Gladstone, an assistant professor of public health management at New Mexico State University; and Dan Stewart, an associate professor of management at Gonzaga University are developing strategies to attract more American Indians to business studies.
They and others who've lived in or worked closely with American Indian communities say an array of factors, including inadequate preparation in high school for the rigors of business school and a belief that business or entrepreneurship defies Indian cultural norms, contribute to the shortage of American Indians in business.
“The study of business is very quantitative,”
says Steve Denson, director of diversity for the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
“It's very numbers driven. American Indians tend to go into the social sciences. Historically, there's been a trend toward the social sciences and the softer sciences in Indian country.”
Then there's the matter of motivation.
Not the Indian way?
"A lot of Native American students go to college for altruistic reasons rather than selfish reasons,”
says Gladstone, adding that many are motivated by how the degree can benefit their communities.
"From my research, one barrier that keeps them from considering careers in business seems to be perception that it is not the Indian way to go into business,"
adds Gladstone, who's affiliated with both Black Feet and Nez Perce tribes.
"My research explored the history of trade among American Indians and relationships with non-Indians. American Indians have a long history of trade. Journals of the Hudson Bay Company show that American Indians were rather savvy traders. Trading is in our blood. To practice business does not go against the Indian way. The idea of business not being Indian is a recent belief in our history, since the reservation era. Ever since we’ve been on the reservation, our native trading spirit has been taken away from us. We've lost that spirit of entrepreneurship."
Gladstone says that, in many American Indian communities, many see capitalism as greedy or selfish.Read More »
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posted November 28, 2012 9:50 am est