SDSU president receives prestigious Harold W. McGraw Jr. Higher Education Prize

South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn was announced as the recipient of the Harold...
South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn was announced as the recipient of the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Higher Education Prize for his work with the Wokini Initiative.(South Dakota State University)
Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 4:10 PM CDT
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BROOKINGS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn was announced as the recipient of the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Higher Education Prize for his work with the Wokini Initiative.

The Wokini Initiative was launched in 2016 during Dunn’s inaugural address with the purpose of better serving South Dakota’s tribal members by improving access to the benefits of higher education, according to a press release from the university.

“I am extremely humbled and honored to receive this prestigious recognition and would like to thank the selection committee for choosing me. These types of recognitions do not represent the work of one individual, but rather the work of many. The Wokini Initiative is something that has deep meaning to me personally but would not be possible without the support and effort of hundreds of people throughout the state of South Dakota and the United States. I am grateful for their effort and belief that we are providing important opportunities for our American Indian students.”

SDSU President Barry Dunn

The initiative works to increase collaboration and partnerships with tribes and tribal organizations; provide sustainable financial resources that include student scholarship; increase the American Indian student population on campus to mirror the population in the state; improve Indigenous student success through cultural awareness and build a new American Indian Student Center in the heart of campus.

The Wokini Initiative was launched in 2016 during Dunn’s inaugural address with the purpose of...
The Wokini Initiative was launched in 2016 during Dunn’s inaugural address with the purpose of better serving South Dakota’s tribal members by improving access to the benefits of higher education, according to a press release from the university.(Greg Latza | South Dakota State University)

“There has been early success in building lasting change into South Dakota State University to better serve our Indigenous students, but we also recognize that there is still a great deal of work to be done. Education is the most powerful and transformative agent of change to improve our common good, and the support for the Wokini Initiative provides our students an opportunity to embrace their culture while working toward a future that positively impacts society. We will continue to provide those opportunities and open doors for hundreds of American Indian students in South Dakota.”

SDSU President Barry Dunn
Funding the initiative

Funding for the Wokini Initiative has come through private donations to the SDSU Foundation and revenue generated by land as part of the South Dakota Permanent Trust Fund. To date, more than $25 million in philanthropic gifts have been provided to Wokini and with Dunn’s advocacy, the U.S. Congress supported The New Beginning for Tribal Students grant program as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The program appropriates $5 million annually among the 50 states in the U.S.

The private donations have included more than $9.8 million in endowments and a $4 million lead gift to build the American Indian Student Center in 2020. Additionally, the Wokini Initiative received grants from the Bush Foundation and the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropy.