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BSU's Blackwell to receive MLK Commitment to Service Award

BEMIDJI—A BSU administrator will be one of 17 Minnesotans honored by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday.

Bill Blackwell, Jr. will receive Minnesota's MLK Commitment to Service Award at the governor's council's annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 15 in St. Paul.

Blackwell is the executive director at BSU's American Indian Resource Center, where he's been at the forefront of the school's push to become a destination for American Indian students.

That's meant dual enrollment agreements with nearby tribal colleges that make it easier to attend BSU and parlay a two-year degree into a four-year degree. And "preview days" for students at predominantly American Indian high schools to check out classes at the university, among other initiatives.

"Those are things that a lot of universities don't do," Blackwell said. American Indian students, he explained, sometimes don't feel like they're a part of the university or belong there. "And so being recognized for some of the things we're doing to make sure that they feel like they belong is very rewarding."

The school's new five-year strategic plan aims to add another 100 American Indian students and Blackwell said the university hopes they eventually constitute 10 percent of the total student body.

University leaders also pointed to the school's growing retention rate for American Indian students, which means more native students are sticking around after their first year there. That rate, Blackwell said, sits at 84 percent this year, up about 12 percent from the year before. University staff hope to determine American Indian students' "persistence rate," too, which measures how many students stay for four years and complete a degree.

And BSU has graduated 37 American Indian students last year and 45 the year before that.

"Humbled, I guess, that's the only word that I could use," Blackwell said about the award. "It might be my name on the award, but it's the work that we're doing collectively to make sure that we're moving the population the right direction."

Blackwell also received the Distinguished Diversity Leadership Award from Minnesota State's Academic and Student Affairs division last October.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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