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Increasing Cultural Competency

Kent State at Salem nursing and early childhood education majors have been visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota since 2011 as part of an experiential learning program. 

Students who participate in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation program have the opportunity to engage with members of a culture other than their own in the hopes of instilling cultural humility and understanding, while also creating cultural competency. The goal of this initiative is to help students in these majors begin to cultivate empathy and understanding for the people they will serve in their careers. 

“Cultural diversity is not readily available in Columbiana County, and many of our students have never traveled outside Ohio. For many of our students, this is a first-time opportunity. They spend a great deal of time in pre-immersion meetings and exercises to prepare the students for the trip and for the experience of understanding diversity,” said Lorene Martin, MSN, program coordinator.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux, and Kent State students interact with the families who live there and bring them donations of needed items including coats, shoes, personal care items, school supplies and more. Residents face many challenges such as poverty, unemployment and elevated high school dropout rates. Health statistics for residents of the reservation are grim with the lowest life expectancy in the western hemisphere for both men and women. Residents also face alarming rates for tuberculosis, alcoholism, diabetes, infant mortality and teen suicide.

Columbiana County students often come from or live  in an Appalachian-designated area and experience financial hardships of their own. Kent State provides students with fundraising opportunities to help them self-finance this trip, but many students still find the trip cost prohibitive and are unable to travel to Pine Ridge.  

The cost for this eight-day learning experience is approximately $1,600 per student and includes transportation and lodging.  The number of students who participate each year varies with as few as six and as many as 16 each year. 

Maria DiLallo, ‘22,  is a junior majoring in nursing who visited the reservation in 2019. “Getting to meet and speak with residents from the reservation and getting to hear their stories was truly inspiring. I am so grateful to have been able to meet every single one of them,” said Maria. “I enjoyed engaging with the residents and helping in the community garden.”

“I will never forget this opportunity,” said Maranda Kiddey, ‘21, a senior nursing major. “This entire experience has shaped my outlook for my future nursing career, and I am considering applying for jobs in South Dakota,” said Maranda. “I was inspired to think about improving and providing healthcare to the Lakota people who live there.”


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