Submitted by South Puget Sound Community College Foundation Staff
Each year, South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) hosts the daylong FIRE Summit to support the success of Native students in higher education. This event is a joint project to give high school students opportunities to experience college campus life, connect with staff and faculty, and meet other Native students. In addition to learning about college resources, students get to explore potential academic and career pathways through hands-on activities and a series of targeted and culturally-relevant presentations.
Thanks to a long-standing collaboration between South Puget Sound Community College and the Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Skokomish tribes, and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, as well as North Thurston Public Schools, the annual event continues to grow. SPSCC’s Director of Student Life Electra Gupton shared that, on average, approximately 100 students have participated in FIRE Summit events in previous years. However, this year over 275 Native youth from local tribes and North Thurston Public Schools participated in the 2023 FIRE Summit.
SPSCC Foundation Development Director Evan Skytte is one of several staff members who have witnessed the event’s evolution and growth through the support of local tribes. Evan shared, “Thanks to the wonderful relationships we have with the tribes, Native youth can benefit not only from the event itself but also from the FIRE Summit scholarship available to participants who meet the scholarship criteria.”
SPSCC’s Director of Tribal Programming Shanon Millman has served as a liaison with tribal representatives in the FIRE Summit Committee for over eight years. Her long-standing relationships have helped make the connections required to ensure the event programming is relevant and meaningful for the Native youth who attend. For example, her connection to tribal Education Directors and others involved in past FIRE Summit Committees provided important insights during the planning stages of the 2023 Summit.
Newer SPSCC FIRE Summit collaborators include Director of Student Life Electra Gupton, Executive Diversity Officer of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Center Amanda Ybarra, and the Director of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Center Jasmin Faulk-Dickerson. This team has worked to support an immersive, campus life experience that is welcoming, fun, and inspiring, and helps Native students connect with the college. As Jasmin Faulk-Dickerson explained, “We wanted to support an experience that lets students know they are seen and heard and supports finding their voices in an authentic way that respects their cultural backgrounds.”
FIRE Summit ‘Finding Your Voice’ Theme
This year’s programming for the FIRE Summit reflected the event’s theme, “Finding Your Voice,” in several ways. Throughout the overall experience, students had opportunities to share their voices in hands-on sessions and activities where they could see themselves represented and respected. Executive Diversity Officer of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Center Amanda Ybarra emphasized, “Representation is important. The Summit offers Natives students a space to dream and see themselves in the higher education environment.”
The robust daylong experience began with a welcoming reception featuring Land Acknowledgement and welcoming traditions. Presentations from the keynote speaker Competitive Runner Rosalie Fish (Muckleshoot) and SPSCC Peer Mentor Jennifer Tuimaseve supported the event’s theme by sharing stories about finding their voices through service to others and education. Athlete and Activist Rosalie Fish is nationally recognized for her work to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) by displaying the initials M.M.I.W. with a red hand print on her face and clothing when she participates in competitive track events. SPSCC Peer Mentor Jennifer Tuimaseve is a Former FIRE Summit attendee. She shared what it was like to attend her first FIRE Summit as a high school student and described her subsequent experiences after she enrolled as a student at SPSCC. Electra Gupton shared, “We hope students who attend this event and decide to enroll at SPSCC will have an opportunity to see Jennifer’s friendly face when they return to campus.”
2023 FIRE Summit Activities Ignite Dreams
Programming for the 2023 FIRE Summit not only helped students gain opportunities to learn about campus life and resources, they also got to make connections with faculty, staff, and fellow students. In addition to hearing presentations from the keynote speakers, their daylong experience included hands-on workshops led by SPSCC faculty and staff on topics from different SPSCC Pathways. Workshop leaders encouraged students to tell their stories through writing and visual arts. Students also learned about SPSCC Pathways and explored areas such as healthcare, automotive technology, and culinary arts programs through hands-on activities. Campus tours also gave students a chance to see themselves in campus spaces and discover a wide range of campus resources.
Providing Connections to Resources
Just as the event activities offered hands-on ways for students to explore college life and possible career pathways, they also provided opportunities to learn about specific college resources to help them get to college. Resource representatives from different departments, such as Financial Aid and Athletics, were available to answer student questions at an afternoon tabling event. Community partners, such as The Evergreen State College, their Native Pathways Program, and Sky Bear Media were also on hand to share resource information. SPSCC’s Advising, Career & Transfer Center Outreach staff assisted students with resource navigation. Financial Aid representatives also shared information about financial resources, such as the SPSCC Foundation’s FIRE Summit Scholarship, which is awarded to students who participate in the FIRE Summit, meet scholarship criteria, and decide to apply for enrollment in upcoming Fall classes.