Western Today recently chatted with Laural Ballew, who just started her job at Western as the university's first executive director of American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations & Tribal Liaison to the President. Ballew most recently served as department chair of Tribal Governance and Business Management at Northwest Indian College, a program which she created. Ballew was hired following a national search, and she started at Western on Monday, Jan. 28.
There will be a student, faculty and staff reception welcoming Ballew to campus from 4:30-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5 in the Old Main solarium (OM 590). The campus is invited to attend.
WT: We know it’s only your first week at Western and you’re still developing your strategic plan, but can you give us a sense of some of your initial thinking about ways you intend to enhance the support and success of American Indian, Alaska Native and First Nations students at WWU?
First and foremost I wish to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has welcomed me to Western. I have been overwhelmed with the good wishes and support from everyone I have had the chance to meet so far, and it is clear to me that Western is very much a community which I am happy to be a part of.
I plan to meet with the NASU students for consultation on their issues and concerns. I will also work on communicating my "open door" policy with AI/AN FN students for appointments if they are not comfortable in a group setting. I have already received inquiries for recommending future students to Western by friends and other colleagues from NWIC.
I will also be implementing an Advisory Committee to work with me in addressing the support of AI/AN/FN students and building relationships with tribal communities. This will include the planning and implementation of the future longhouse for Western.
In the future, I would like to develop the staff to assist with policy development for retention, educational support services and job placement for WWU Native students and community members.
WT: This is a new position and one that has been widely anticipated and long overdue at Western. Can you tell us why you were drawn to this opportunity?
As an alumna of Western, I was drawn to this position for so many reasons. In my last position at Northwest Indian College, I was responsible for developing a four-year degree program which has excelled on so many levels. This was one of my most rewarding experiences.
As a past student, I understand the challenges faced by Native people. My passion has always been around education and giving back to my community. This position will enable me to continue the work of promoting education while giving a voice for the Native community and helping Western build sustainable and working relationships with tribal communities.
This is a position with wide-ranging responsibility, from developing more sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships between the University and Tribal governments, to improve access to educational and support services for AI/AN students, and advising the President and the Board of Trustees on legislative and policy matters of concern to our indigenous neighbors.
WT: Do you have a sense of where you will focus your energies initially? How can the Western community -- both in Bellingham and in our other site locations in Everett and the Peninsulas -- help you be successful?
As I am only a few days into my new position, I have given a lot of thought on where I would like to begin. Currently, my initial energy is to facilitate the concerns addressed by NASU students and future plans for a longhouse. I am also interested in addressing the issue concerning the accuracy of Native student enrollment numbers. NASU has a high interest in reaching out to all Native students (regardless of enrollment status) for educational and group support. I am interested in helping the group to identify and include more Native students to the center for effective and collaborative engagement.
I intend to reach out to the Western community, as my time allows, to inquire how individuals are available and willing to assist me in supporting this new position and build a sustainable and beneficial community of access to meet the educational and support services of all AI/AN/FN students. I realize that I have a lot to learn about the current circumstances at Western and that this position has been way overdue, but the filling of this role has been a welcoming beacon of hope for the Native students and communities we serve. I am motivated by the generous outpouring of support by Western colleagues and the surrounding tribal communities.