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From its beginning, East Central University has been closely tied to the Chickasaw Nation and Native American culture. One hundred years ago Dan Hays, a Chickasaw Indian, donated the land for the original campus. Today, 20 percent of ECU's students are Native American and the university features a Native American Student Association, a Native American studies major and the Hayes Native American Studies Center.

In recognition of its Native American students and programs, ECU was recently awarded a $2.4 million, two-year grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institutions Program to create the Native American Voices Inspiring Student Success Project.

The project is guided by one goal -- to further improve and expand ECU's capacity to serve Native American and low-income students.

"The Voices Project has three main components --culturally integrated student support services focused on recruitment and retention, building renovations and faculty development," said Renee Hogue, director of the Voices Project.

As part of recruitment and retention, a comprehensive enrollment management center will be created that will target Native American and low-income students. By this fall, a living and learning community will be established in Pesagi Hall for freshmen who are Native American, majoring in Native American Studies or have an interest in native culture.

"We also have a student worker program for freshmen that allows us to employ 20 students across campus that are either Native American or qualify as low income," said Hogue.

Eligible freshmen must have a high school GPA of 2.5 -- 3.5, a composite ACT score of 16 -- 24 and be eligible for Title IV need-based assistance.

Other services provided to students include admissions coordination, academic advisement, enrollment, tribal liaison assistance, cultural activities, campus resource and referral services and early warning/intervention programs for beginning freshmen who may be struggling to adjust to the college experience.

The second phase of the federal grant allows for renovation of 14 classrooms in Horace Mann and Faust Hall, six this summer and eight next summer, all within the Native American Studies program and/or the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. In addition, office space will be added for the Voices Project staff and enrollment management center along with space for a Student Academic Engagement Center.

"We are going to establish an academic engagement center on the first floor of Faust Hall," said C.J. Vires, associate vice president for sponsored programs and research. "It will have office space for the honors program, service learning program and writing center. It will have a common area with a meeting room and a computer lab."

In addition to Hogue, the director, the Voices Project includes Trish Frasher, the data collection specialist; Shawna Jackson, who coordinates retention efforts; and Kyle Gardner, the first-year program coordinator.

"We are committed to serve Native American and low-income students both in and out of the classroom in order to make their college careers a success," Hogue said.

For more information about the Voices Project, call 580-559-5654 or visit

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