By Lani Hansen, Senior Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma– Muscogee (Creek) citizen Rochell Werito received the Cobell Scholarship while she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Teaching, Learning and Leadership at Oklahoma State University.
According to the Cobell Scholar website, the Cobell Scholarship is named after Elouise Cobell who was from the Blackfeet Reservation. In 1996, she was a banker who led a class action lawsuit to demand back payment and better accounting on Individual Indian Money Accounts managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Thirteen years later, the federal government settled for $34 billion, the largest settlement in U.S. history. The settlement led to the Cobell Scholarship for Native American Students.
“The scholarship had different things about Elouise Cobell, about her background of her growing up and different things she’s done,” Werito said. “It asked about leadership in response of what you read about her, it talks about community engagement and vision for the future.”
After paying for school out of pocket her first year and taking a loan out, Werito heard about the Cobell Scholarship from former a coworker and people around her. She applied for a lot of scholarships beginning with Cobell going into her second year of graduate school.
“I wanted to have a slightly financial stress free year,” Werito said about applying for the scholarship. “I worked on it to make it where all these questions tie into my life, so they could see who I am as a person and see the picture I’m trying to paint.”
Around the time where they was listing recipients for the scholarship, Werito did not hear anything about being a finalist. She thought maybe it was not meant to be and waited until the next day to check again. She was excited after finding out she received the scholarship.
Werito chose the Teaching, Learning and Leadership program because they have a specialty called curriculum and leadership studies. In her workplace she has stepped into a curriculum phase.
“I wanted to have a better foundation on how to build curriculum, understand it and build sustaining things for schools in the Indian Education Departments,” Werito said. “Going back to school has helped me learn how to build these things in a better way.”
As a graduate student, Werito works for Oklahoma City Public Schools Native American Student Services as the Cultural Program Coordinator. She works with students on building curriculum for the department to help with teachers get a better Native perspective on different topics.
“One thing we are working on now is called ‘back the braid’ for boys with long hair, we are working on some material because when they are in school the boys are getting bullied,” Werito stated.
As a finalist recipient of the Cobell Scholarship, Werito believes it is important for Native communities to try for these types of scholarships. Some might think it is tedious but it is fulfilling when you have money to go to school.
For more information about the Cobell Scholarship, visit www.cobellscholar.org