Anna (Fox) Sheppard ’98 was named president of White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen, Minn. She had been serving as the interim president before being selected after a national search.
The college was established in 1997 and is celebrating its 25th year. It offers an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree and certificate programs.
“The name says it all: White Earth Tribal and Community College — so we serve all students — Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” Sheppard said. “Roughly 80% of students identify as Indigenous.”
The college is one of 35 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) across the nation. Sheppard said she likes that, while earning their degree, students also get to ground their Anishinaabe culture, values, and tradition into their experience.
The college’s vision statement reads: Gibimiwidoomin Gidinwewininaan Niigaanakeyaa (We are carrying into the future the way that we were given) and the Anishinaabe Seven Grandfather Teachings serve as the core values for the college (for a full explanation of values):
· Manaaji’idiwin (Respect)
· Zaagi’idiwin (Love)
· Zoogide’ewin (Courage/Bravery)
· Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty)
· Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom)
· Dabasendizowin (Humility)
· Debwewin (Truth)
“When you walk into our building, you walk into the drum hall, which is the main part of the building,” Sheppard said. “We have all of our seven grandfather teachings there and so that’s just our way of life, what we strive to follow and do, and those values are embedded in all of our coursework.”
Sheppard is an enrolled member of the White Earth Tribe and has bloodlines from the Sokaogon Chippewa community in Mole Lake, Wis., and Potawatomi, also in Wisconsin. After graduating from Moorhead High School, Sheppard came directly to Concordia and earned an elementary education degree and a minor in communications. When she decided to work on a master’s degree, she contacted Concordia about what she’d need to turn her communications minor into a major and found out she only needed one class. She was able to double major by taking that course at Minnesota State University Moorhead where she also earned her Master of Science degree in educational administration.
Dr. Cindy Larson-Casselton, professor of communication studies at Concordia, was a mentor to Sheppard after the two “clicked.”
“Cindy was phenomenal,” Sheppard said. “I give her props because at that time I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to have a kid so my life’s changing. I need to work. I need to quit school.’ And Cindy really put it all into perspective for me. Of all the things she said to me, one that really stuck with me was she when said ‘Anna, you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last to have a kid while in college.’ It was kind of that little wake-up nod that I needed, so I figured, I’ve got this.”
Larson-Casselton remembers Sheppard fondly. “A big smile comes across my face whenever I hear her name,” she said. “She was such a persistent and competent student and so aware of her own strengths. Her curiosity soared. I’m so very proud of her.”
Sheppard has worked the whole range of the education system prior to landing in the president’s office — from Trinity Preschool; to teaching fifth and sixth graders; to teaching, enrollment management, and an IT position at Minnesota State Community and Technical College Moorhead; to director of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at North Dakota State University. Most recently, she was the director of the White Earth Head Start program.
Sheppard has some big plans for the future of White Earth Tribal and Community College. She wants the school to provide an online A.A. degree option and expand into other states. A project is also underway to add a trades building and offer trades degrees.
“Construction technology will be an Associate of Applied Science degree that will offer construction, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC,” she said. “One of the college’s certificate programs is solar energy, so it’s possible they may add that element.”
“So a student will come in, and they’ll take classes in each of those areas. By giving them those five choices, they’ll be able to choose what interests them most because we know that to be successful in our careers we should be doing something that we love,” she added. “Definitely growth and technology are the biggest things on my plate right now.”