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College of Education > News and Publications > News: October - December 2013 > Unique Course Provides Immersive Experience with Ojibwe

Unique Course Provides Immersive Experience with Ojibwe

Two courses that focus on Native American culture and history offer students a life-changing educational experience.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Anyone with an interest in Native American history, culture or lifeways is encouraged to explore a pair of complementary course offerings at Penn State in spring and Maymester 2014.

Penn State students in Ojibwe cultural engagement courseThe two courses, CED 497B: Exploring Indigenous Ways of Knowing in the North American Context and CED 497C: Exploring Indigenous Ways of Knowing Among the Ojibwe, offer students a life-changing educational experience.

After 10 years of success, the award-winning Ojibwe cultural engagement course has been re-designed and will be offered as an integrated spring/Maymester experience in 2014.

The class is a collaboration between the Community, Environment and Development Program in the College of Agricultural Sciences, the University Libraries, the World in Conversation and Continuing Education. The course is open to both undergraduate and graduate students at all campuses through online instruction. Faculty and staff and the general public can also enroll.

Bruce Martin canoes Mississippi

The course starts in spring Semester with a focused introduction to indigenous knowledge of Native Americans. Then, in Maymester, students embark on a three-week cultural engagement among the Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth Ojibwe of northern Minnesota.

Audrey Maretzki, one of the program coordinators, said the course has applications in a wide range of majors.

Kyle Snyder, a senior pre-medicine major, took the class in 2012. Initially, he said he was inspired to take the class because his grandfather tried to teach him native ways because the family ancestry includes Native American roots.

“It is tough to pick a favorite memory because there were so many good things that happened while I took the entire course,” Snyder said.

He said one memory is an experience he had with another student. They were partnered with a native, Murphy Tomas, to stay a night on the reservation. The two students were privileged to be included in building a sweat lodge.

“We were able to finish it just before sunset, and because we were able to finish it, we had a ceremony and actually got to sweat in it that night,” Snyder said. “We were able to participate in a sweat ceremony before anyone else in the class. It was so beautiful to experience something outside of the regular agenda, which happened often. It definitely created a bond between everyone involved that I will never forget.”

Noelle Meyers-Powell is a senior sociology major, who is minoring in community engagement. She said the class fit perfectly with her major and her minor.

“The class prepared me for most experiences on the reservation. During the face-to-face meetings, the readings, videos, and discussions helped to shape a better understanding of the culture we were going to spend time within,” Meyers-Powell said.

“One of the concepts we discussed from the readings was the idea of observation, and how in indigenous cultures that’s a very common way for children to learn skills,” said Meyers-Powell. “By observing my surroundings and paying close attention, I learned about certain traditions, practices, and protocol during certain events in the Ojibwe culture without hearing a single word of English. It was interesting to learn that way.”

“My favorite memory was when we each got to spend a day with a host family on the reservation. While staying at my host’s home, I met her children and her grandchildren and learned all about her family. I heard stories about holidays, funerals, weddings and school,” she said.

“There was such a sense of warmth and family, even though hours before I was a mere stranger. Introductions in this community were different than they were in the Western world. In this culture, a simple introduction was not simple at all. It, instead, was a window on their lives, their families and who they were as people.”

Courses and opportunities to learn about indigenous cultures and peoples are offered by many universities. This course, however, is different because of its “talking-circle” design and intensive field experience, which provides students with an opportunity to learn from and with approximately 25 leading elders, educators and traditional knowledge holders.

To complete an online application, visit The spring semester course and Maymester field experience have a limited enrollment, so applicants are encouraged to complete the mandatory application early.

Email Bruce D. Martin at if you have questions about the application, course design or content, or field experience itinerary. Email Jenifer O’Connor at or Carolyn Andersen at if you have questions about the application or registration process.

Enrollment for the 2014 course sequence (CED 497 B/C) has reached capacity. Watch for information about the 2015 Ojibwe class that will be posted on the ICIK website:


-- By Andy Elder (November 2013)