A new center at MSUM aims to improve recruitment and retention of American Indian students. MSUM sponsored a grand opening ceremony Wednesday for the American Indian Research and Resource Center in Holmquist Hall. In addition to providing a resource library and a hub for research projects, the center will be a gathering place for students.

MSUM has about 100 Native American students, or about 1 percent of the student body, said Donna Brown, assistant vice president of student affairs for diversity and inclusion.

The students come from 14 tribes, with the largest representation from the White Earth Nation in northwest Minnesota.

The retention rate for freshman and sophomore American Indian students is about 50 percent, Brown said.

President Edna Szymanski said establishing the center is just the beginning.

“I want more service to our American Indian students, I want more students and I want us to succeed more with the students we have,” Szymanski said.

Athena Aitken, a third-year MSUM student and member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, said she didn’t meet another American Indian student until her second month on campus.

Having a place where students can connect with each other will help retention, Aitken said.

MSUM already has research projects under way related to improving access to higher education for American Indians.

Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Tribal Council and an MSUM alumna, said she had dreams for such a center for several years.

“When we learn about one another … that’s what builds and strengthens diversity and respect and understanding and eliminates those barriers that divide us,” Vizenor said.

The center, in Holmquist 144-145, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.