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Lauren Subosits Experiences Native American Customs During Unique Summer Internship

Article about student Lauren Subosits

by Joe Savrock (November 2008)

Subosits - Assiniboine sweat.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Lauren Subosits will always remember the Summer of 2008.

Subosits, a junior majoring in Elementary and Kindergarten Education, served a unique internship in Montana last May, studying education programs at ten Native American reservation schools.

“I was very fortunate to have gotten this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Subosits.

Hollie Mackey, graduate assistant for David Gamson, associate professor of education theory and policy, noticed Subosits’ strong interest in Native American culture and schooling systems. Mackey invited Subosits to work with her on a two-week project in Montana to evaluate federally funded Character Education programs in reservation elementary schools.

Subosits served as Mackey’s research assistant, collecting quantitative and qualitative data about school climate, school and administrative leadership, professional development programs, community partnerships, and the Character Education room and curriculum. She participated in school walk-throughs and interviewed Character Education teachers and school administrators.

“During the school walk-throughs, I was able to take pictures of artifacts and student work that supported the Character Education program,” says Subosits. “The interviews helped both Hollie and me learn the successes and areas in need of improvement related to the school's specific Character Education program.”

The objective of the study was to evaluate whether or not each Native American school district was appropriately spending its Character Education Project funds. “I used my data and observations to keep a detailed journal, to write my own reports, and to write a reflective piece about two or three themes I noticed from my journal,” says Subosits.

Experiencing the Culture

Subosits got some first-hand experience with Native American culture. “I was invited to join a traditional Blackfeet drum group,” she says. “Usually women are not allowed to sit in the drum group because their role is to sing on the outside of the circle.”

However, according to Indian culture, visitors are seen as good luck. Subosits was handed a drumstick and asked to participate in a song. “It was such a powerful experience and the energy was so intense,” she says. “All of the students were very nice to me, and they gave me a bag of beautiful beaded jewelry as a token of their appreciation.”

On another day, after evaluating a school in the foothills of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, the school's culture teacher, Roger White, invited Subosits and Mackey to participate in a traditional Assiniboine sweat, or baptismal ceremony. “The experience was very similar to a sauna, but much tougher,” says Subosits. “Hot rocks were brought into a small hut and placed into a hole that was dug into the ground. Once everyone was inside, the heavy blankets around the door were closed and everyone sat in complete darkness. Buckets of water were then thrown on to the hot rocks, creating intense amounts of heat and moisture within this small structure.”

White led the three-and-a-half hour ceremony and addressed different people in his population during four different rounds of the sweat. One round, for example, was dedicated to children; another focused on elders. “At the end of the sweat, when my body was completely cleansed and tired, the 102-year-old elder gave me a pat on the back and told me that I had done a good job,” says Subosits. “I felt really special at that moment and also realized that I had a new appreciation and outlook on life.

“These Native Americans were some of the kindest and welcoming people I had ever met,” added Subosits. “I didn't want to leave this place.”

Subosits - Flushing Meadows.jpgPenn State Tennis Club

A talented athlete, Subosits is a third-year member of Penn State’s Club Tennis Travel Team. Comprised of the top 10 men and top 10 women in the Club Tennis organization, this travel team is highly competitive and requires an impressive finish at the tryout tournament in order to be considered for a spot on the team. Lauren is typically a singles player, but she has also had great success playing doubles, and even mixed doubles. As treasurer, Lauren also stays busy managing the team’s funds and travel accommodations.

“Playing on the Club Tennis team here at Penn State has proved to be a great outlet from all of the academic demands in college,” she states.

“This year is looking like our best chance to win nationals,” continues Subosits. The club won the sectional tournament held in October at Lehigh University and was awarded an automatic bid to the 2009 National Campus Championships, to be held next April in Surprise, Ariz.

Subosits currently is recovering from a chronic back injury. But, she says, “My dedication and passion for the game of tennis will surely show through in the spring when I return to the team full-time.” 

While she recovers, Subosits’ teammates have dubbed her the “Team Mom”—a tribute to her mild-mannered personality and her eagerness to coach her peers through practices and tough matches. “Many of the girls come to me for advice, and I love that I can still aid the team despite my injury,” she says.

 “Oftentimes, close matches come down to the final mixed doubles match,” she explains. One match in particular, against Virginia Tech, clearly sticks out in her mind.

“My partner and I were so focused during that match that I can honestly say that I didn't hear one scream or chant from my teammates on the sideline,” she remembers. “Apparently my team was going crazy with excitement, but my focus never flinched. When my partner and I pulled out the win, my team rushed the court and gave us a huge team hug. That victory put us into the gold bracket of the nationals tournament.”

Her love for the sport began at age 6 and continued through high school. She played the #1 spot on the varsity team all four years at Peters Township High School, located in McMurray, Pa. During her senior year, she also qualified for the state doubles tournament.

Now more than halfway through her college career, Subosits has set her sights on the future. “I hope to find a teaching job in the Pittsburgh area,” she says. “I can also see myself coaching a high school tennis team on the side.”