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UTTC Students and Coaches experience 2016 AIHEC Student Conference
March 29, 2016

-Lisa Azure, VP Academics

More than 1,100 participants from 34 tribal colleges gathered in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Convention Center for the 2016 AIHEC Student Conference.  This was the largest number of attendees ever in the long history of this conference. Seventeen UTTC students attended and engaged in various competitions, both academic and athletic.  The group attended keynote speeches, the poetry slam, a banquet, workshops, visited booths, and explored the city, including the Mall of America. The AIHEC Student Conference started on Sunday, March 13 and concluded with the evening awards banquet on Wednesday, March 16.

Students carry the United Tribes Technical College banner in the Parade of Colleges March 14, 2016 during the opening session of the American Indian Higher Education Student Conference in Minneapolis, MN.

The competition at this year’s AIHEC conference was more challenging than any other in conference history because of the record-setting number of attendees. The UTTC students stepped up to the challenge, however, and placed in more competitions and finished higher than in years past:

  • 1st Place Critical Inquiry: Liz White (Standing Rock) and Jayde Bettelyoun (Oglala Lakota)
  • 3rd Place Science Oral Presentation: Dawn Alkhafaji (Turtle Mountain)
  • Davine Gilbert- 3rd place in Division 1 (Textiles)
  • Amira Gunn- 2nd Place in Division 2 (Jewelry)
  • Amira Gunn-People’s Choice Award (Digital Design)

The students had strong finishes in two other competitions, even though they didn’t receive awards. Mandi Hairy Shirt finished 5th out of 35 competitors in Informative Speech and the Hand Games team finished in 6th place out of 24 teams.

Mandi Hairy Shirt –Three Affiliated, Business Administration, placed 5th out of 35 participants, with her informative speech on bullying.

Liz White and Jayde Bettelyoun, Criminal Justice students, take 1st place for Critical Inquiry.

Dawn Alkhafaji, Environmental Science, takes 3rd place in the science oral presentation competition.

UTTC student, Kimberlee Blevins, ended her term as Historian for the AIHEC Student Government and as Miss AIHEC 2015.  Ms. Blevins crowned Tada Vargas (Oglala Lakota College) as the incoming Miss AIHEC 2016 during the Awards Banquet held on Wednesday evening.


Conversations on the Bus
By Brian Palecek, UTTC English/Humanities Instructor

The UTTC students and coaches traveled home by bus on Thursday, March 17. During the long bus ride home, through the snow and rain, each student was interviewed by Brian Palecek and asked to reflect on his or her experiences. The following are highlights from the students’ perspectives:

  • “Bonding with other students and our own team in the Hand Games.”
  • “Karen Diver’s keynote speech. Her life story was inspiring.”
  • “Knowledge Bowl was a new experience, being in a competition like that and meeting new people.”
  • “The comedy group 1491. They made light of things that are not normally talked about.”
  •  “The Hand Games. People really got into it, cheering each other on. I was amazed how long it could go on.”
  • “The banquet awards ceremony. The two top Hand Game winning teams showed seriousness and sportsmanship.”
  • “Meeting all the new people, both from UTTC and the other schools. Normally I am in my own little world.”
  • “Competing and winning in Critical Inquiry. Mike Wetsch (UTTC Criminal Justice), our coach, calmed us down and really supported us. What he did was even more important than us winning.”
  • “ Meeting people from other schools, getting to know the UTTC students.”
  • “ The archery was fun not just competitive, I met new people.”
  • “The Hand Games brought us together and blended with other schools. We were bonded in a new way.”
  • “Networking, Karen Diver’s keynote, meeting new Native American people to look up to”
  • “I felt younger than most of the other students, also came close to being mugged in the street, but one of the high points was the entry of all the students on opening day.”
  • “The experience of Knowledge Bowl and playing Hand Games was the best experience. Not knowing what material to remember was tough but a great challenge. I loved it and would love to attempt it again.”


Time spent resting on the bus, returning from AIHEC Student Conference, Minneapolis, March 17, 2016

Students coming together from UTTC to compete in Hand Games Tournament in Minneapolis, MN

The Hand Games competition was enjoyed by all of the students and coaches. Some students were on the front lines, as players in the games. Other students and the coaches stood behind the team, supporting their teammates by moving their hands and arms to the beat of the drums or waving scarves to try and distract the opposing team. Considering that more than half the team learned the game within 3 weeks of the competition, and some had never played before, their success and sense of camaraderie was remarkable. Many said that the Hand Games tournament was one of the most memorable events of the entire conference.

Mandi Hairy Shirt wrote a paragraph that expressed the feelings of many of the students about the Hand Games experience:
“Why were the hand games such a big deal? I believe it was because even though we all are attending UTTC, we are all in different programs so none of us have ever really talked. When we did Hand Games, and we were winning, it brought us together and helped us support each other. It showed we could be united even though we were in different classes and programs. It brought good laughter because we didn't think we could make it to the final 6. It allowed us to develop friendships we didn’t have when we left home.”

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