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American Indian Student Success director sets sights on future growth

When Stephanie Johnson ’93/M.S. ’00 left South Dakota State University after working in Multicultural Affairs, it was painful to say goodbye, but she always knew that eventually she’d try to come back.
Johnson got that opportunity and started in October 2021 as the first Larson Family Endowed Director of American Indian Student Success. With experience in both secondary and postsecondary education, she leads the team at the American Indian Student Center. To do so, she draws on her SDSU education.
“I don’t think I could do this job without my educational experience. My background in counseling has had a direct impact on being able to establish the relationships needed for success with our students and staff,” said Johnson, who is pursuing a doctorate in adult and higher education leadership.
“Part of it is knowing how to engage with students where they are,” she continued. “I think that’s possible by being able to quickly engage with students through conversations and knowing what questions to ask to start developing that rapport.”
She intends to build that rapport with students regardless of if they visit the AISC multiple times each day or come every other week.
“The center is not a one-size-fits-all. The goal is to connect with students and develop the relationships, allowing them to tell their stories and help them share what they need when they get here,” Johnson said, adding the center is part of a support system for all SDSU students.
“I see the center being a blend of being in the present, where we meet students’ needs now but also having a vision for what we can be,” she continued. “Ideally, I would like to develop a peer mentoring program for students to develop relationships for other students, where upperclass students lead the new students on how to navigate college. We know there’s a hidden curriculum on a college campus and to have someone help you who’s done that is so beneficial.”
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