A group of business and management professors at universities across the country are working to increase the number of Native American students majoring in business and the number of Natives teaching business at the university level.
A November 25 article published by the magazine Diverse Issues in Higher Education, reports that the number of American Indians in business fields—whether they be in corporate boardrooms or small businesses—are dismally low.
Student numbers are low as well, the Ph.D. Project, a nonprofit that aims to get African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in business management positions and business faculty positions, had only 19 Native American students in its Minority Doctoral Students Associations in 2011.
The associations are formed to “combat the high attrition rate inherent among all business doctoral students,” says the Ph.D. Project 2011 Annual Report. The groups are a way that “minority students connect with others who are facing similar challenges on the way to becoming professors.”
It’s not all bad news though. Carrie Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, told Diverse Education that the number of business graduates from tribal colleges rose 39 percent between Fall 2003 and Fall 2010.
Educators working to increase the number of Natives in the business field say there’s a belief that business and the idea of entrepreneurship defies cultural norms, which contributes to the shortage of students.
“The study of business is very quantitative,” Steve Denson, director of diversity for the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, told Diverse Education. “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.”
To combat this, educators suggest introducing Native perspectives into the teaching of business, which will help stimulate interest among Native students headed for college.
Amy Klemm Verbos, an assistant professor of management at the University of South Dakota, told Diverse Education she’s trying to get colleagues to rethink the way they teach business and how to incorporate those perspectives.
“One had to do with Native American values and the importance of sustainability and just looking at the positive sides of Native culture,” Verbos, a member of the Pokagon band of the Potawatomi Indians, told the magazine. “The leadership and the value of humility is something that is undervalued but extraordinarily important, as well as respect for all things animate and inanimate—so considering rivers and trees and all of creation as worthy of respect.”
Other educators are expanding outside the classroom. The University of Washington Bothell, where Deanna Kennedy is an assistant professor of operations management, has started a tribal leadership business program.
“There are 37 tribes in Washington state,” Kennedy told Diverse Education. “We will try to hold workshops in three centers or areas in Washington. We will develop a mentorship program and develop it into a workshop program. We will incorporate topics like budgeting and accounting, team leadership and project management.”
Dan Stewart, an associate professor of management at Gonzaga University, thinks the work he and his colleagues are doing could have positive long-term affects on Indian country.
“In order for Native Americans to stand on their two feet economically, individual entrepreneurship is going to have to be key to that,” he told the magazine.