Jennifer Weber ’11 for nearly 10 years worked as an Indian education advisor in the Anoka-Hennepin School District and took high school students on more college tours than she could count. While her job was to encourage her students to obtain bachelor’s degrees, she awaited the opportunity when she, too, could become a college student.
That’s why Weber accepted a layoff intended to downsize her employer’s Indian education department. In return, she received financial assistance from a dislocated worker program that would allow her to attend Augsburg’s adult undergraduate program. Weber called the Augsburg American Indian Student Services office upon taking the layoff and within two days was registered for classes.
“There was no looking back once I set my mind to it,” Weber said. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it completely.’ I was a 16-year-old mom, and I watched all of my friends go off to college. I wanted to say that I still had that experience; I just had it at a different time.”
Weber declared a triple major in emotional/behavioral disabilities, learning disabilities, and American Indian studies, and she participated in an Augsburg Abroad trip to Chiapas, Mexico. She anticipated that her study-abroad experience would change her perspectives on education and American Indian studies by introducing her to a new culture, but she found she was most engaged by discussions surrounding water contamination and the unequal distribution of water resources to native peoples. “An elder asked us, ‘Now that you’ve been here and you’ve seen our communities, are you going to go home and forget about us? Or, are you going to go home and do something?’”
Weber felt called to raise water conservation awareness and later learned of the Mother Earth Water Walk through an event held at Augsburg College. The water walk was established by Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) who regard themselves as the caretakers of the Great Lakes. The walk called attention to the need to conserve water as the source of all life. “I left the event that night and everything made sense to me,” Weber said. “This was my chance to do something.”
During the water walk, Anishinaabe grandmothers, women, men, and youth from Canada and the United States carried water to Bad River, Wis., from the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Hudson Bay. Weber coordinated the southern direction water walk. She found lodging for participants, acquired donations, and joined walkers on their journeys—all the while finishing her coursework at Augsburg in preparation for graduation.
Today Weber continues to raise water conservation awareness, and she, with Native educators from across Minnesota, is writing a curriculum that will accompany a Mississippi River water walk slated to begin during March 2013. The curriculum will be made accessible online to any school or organization working with youth. “If you want to make an effective change, you must start with children,” Weber said.
Since her Augsburg graduation, Weber has resumed her meaningful vocation working with Twin Cities youths. She now serves Cedar-Riverside Community School as a behavior specialist, K-8 special education teacher, and athletic director.
By working in the Augsburg neighborhood, Weber serves her alma mater in a unique way. She is in the midst of a collaborative project with Augsburg education department faculty members Elizabeth Madson Ankeny and Dee Vodicka to create hands-on learning opportunities for students in Augsburg’s weekend and evening program. The students learn about positive behavioral interventions through an on-site classroom experience at the Cedar-Riverside Community School. Research on the collaborative project’s success in teaching Augburg students has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Weber.
Ankeny, Vodicka, and Weber presented observations from the collaboration at the Teacher Education Division for the Council for Exceptional Children national conference in November in Grand Rapids, Mich. Their presentation was titled, “A Walk from Campus to a Neighborhood School: Preservice Teachers’ Experiences in a Partner School.”
It seems Weber’s educational journey with Augsburg College will continue to fork—like a river—at each new opportunity.
Student stories from Weekend and Evening College celebrates 30th anniversary