Alumni success story: Michael Ojibway

| Denise Olson

Michael Ojibway
2008 - B.S. in Psychology & American Indian Studies
2014 – M.E.P.D.

In 2003 I arrived on the UW-Eau Claire campus for the first time slightly disheveled and exhausted, having just come from wrapping up an early morning shift at my second job as a dietary aide for a local nursing facility.  I had finally built up enough courage to visit with Odawa White in the Office of Multicultural Affairs to explore the possibility of attending college at UWEC.

As a first-generation American Indian student, early family discussions regarding my future potential centered around full-time factory work or enlistment in the United States Marine Corps – two very honorable professions in our family legacy.  After visiting with Odawa and sharing with him my interest in history, psychology, and multimedia design, he introduced me to key folks in the Psychology and American Indian Studies Departments and encouraged me to apply.  Meeting others that looked like me and shared similar life and cultural experiences was essential to my early decision to pursue a bachelor's degree at UWEC, and more aptly, my decision to completely immerse myself in AIS activities, coursework, and programming while attending. 

American Indian Studies courses in language, religion, art, and history provided me with an incredibly solid foundation in self-discovery and personal growth that ultimately led to my pursuing a career in Student Services. I wanted to serve the very students who needed additional guidance like I had — first generation students of color like me.  After completing some Ph.D. coursework at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the field of sociology, I returned to Wisconsin in 2010 to be closer to my ailing step-mother and to work as the Diversity & Equal Opportunity Specialist at the Chippewa Valley Technical College. 

After two years and continued professional growth, I was promoted to lead the Diversity, Disability, Counseling, and International Student divisions at CVTC. I stayed actively connected to and engaged with Odawa and faculty in the American Indian Studies Department over the years, and have assisted with planning and coordination of the annual Honoring Education Pow-wow and other cross-campus cultural collaborations. 

I initially came to UW-Eau Claire confused about who I was and how my identity as an Ojibwe man could inform and enrich my potential future career growth and left a self-confident, knowledgeable leader — not a career path plagued with the historical trauma my ancestors endured in this country, but one informed and empowered by their stories and experiences.      

It was through the close mentorship of many faculty in AIS and psychology, and the entire team in the Office of Multicultural Affairs who saw in me what I did not see in myself at the time — that I was a strong leader and a talented story teller.  I left my role at CVTC as the Diversity & Equal Opportunity Manager in 2015 to pursue a career at Saint Paul College as the Director of TRIO and Associate Dean of Student Success where I oversaw a team of 17 professional staff and many millions of dollars in state, federal, and private foundation grants. 

Currently, I am the proud Founder and Principal Strategist at The Grants Monitor, a Strategic Planning and Grants Project Management consulting firm based out of Minnesota.  I am also finishing my first fictional novel entitled “Peculiar Medicines,” which closely follows the tail of two intergenerational American Indian combat veterans and their struggles with substance abuse, friendship, and post-traumatic stress disorder in rural West Central Wisconsin.  I also serve as the Lead Sound Engineer for Pow-Wow Jamz, LLC, and specialize in the recording and production of traditional pow-wow music.  My post-production work on the Midnite Express “Live in Cali 2” album garnered a 2014 Aboriginal People’s Choice Award for Best Traditional Pow-Wow Album in Canada. 

I attribute much of my current success to the engaging curriculum and faculty in the American Indian Studies department who encouraged and empowered me to learn my traditional language, preserve the powerful stories and legacy of my ancestors, and most importantly, for helping me to discover who I am and what talents and strengths that I might bring to my community and to the world.