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Hunter Receives Waterhouse Family Institute Grant
South Dakota Ag Connection - 12/05/2019

It may have taken a bit longer than expected, but Karla Hunter's determination has been rewarded with a grant through the Waterhouse Family Institute.

Hunter, an associate professor in South Dakota State University's School of Communication and Journalism, is working on a project called "Harnessing Hope: Decolonizing Research on Native American Students' College Persistence." The basis of which is the hope theory developed by American psychologist Charles R. Snyder, who developed a way to measure hope and help people think and act in ways that create hope.

"It's just been so engaging, powerful, humbling and just a privilege," Hunter said.

Though Hunter received the grant in August, the roots of the project date to her involvement with "Expanding the Circle," a university initiative that aims to increase the support of Native American students and tribal college and university faculty.

In 2018, Hunter developed Educational Autobiographies, a course that studies and analyzes three theories, hope theory among them. The course, meant for tribal college and university faculty, has the students write about how each theory is enacted in their own decision-making processes. This is where Hunter's inspiration for the grant truly began.

Through these endeavors, Hunter looks forward to deepening her connections with SDSU's Wokini Initiative, the "collaborative and holistic framework to support American Indian student success and indigenous Nation-building."

Before the funding is released, Hunter must complete a human subject approval process, but after that she plans to have students, along with other tribal college and university graduates and faculty members, collaborate to make an oral history archive of their narratives. She also plans to do her own thematic analysis of those narratives looking for messages of hope.

Larissa Durkin, a graduate student in communication and media studies from Moraga, California, helped with the application process and contacted potential partners both on and off campus. Durkin is also working on pilot research by analyzing hopeful communication in a previous set of tribal college and university student and faculty recorded narratives.

"What I'd like to do is build toward a communication theory of hope," Hunter said. "Hope theory by itself is a beautiful thing, but right now it exists mostly in the realm of psychology. So, to look for what is a hope-filled, hope-bringing message is the next step."

Another element will be helping those faculty co-create an intervention to bring into tribal colleges and universities where they can share their stories with others.

"They'll share to find resonance with others seeing how they have seen the path and cleared it," Hunter said. "Hopefully, we'll harness their hope for others. In the future, we'll apply for another grant and create a service-learning assignment so that interested faculty can invite their students to craft their own educational autobiographies and bring them to (students in) pre-K through 12th grade."

But this didn't all just fall into Hunter's lap, she had to write her own story of persistence to make her grand project possible.

Hunter first applied for the WFI grant in 2016, and after receiving feedback as to what she should change if she applied again, she did just that. In 2017, her new grant received similar feedback to the year before--she needed to be more direct.

"You know, it's their money," Hunter said. "They want to know exactly what it's being used for and it's an incredibly competitive process."

This year, there was a 19% acceptance rate among submissions.

Hunter then decided to put the project on hold, but picked it back up after participating in a seminar about grant writing led by Mary Emery, who leads the Department of Sociology and Rural Studies; Pat Crawford, director of the SDSU School of Design; and grant proposal specialist Kyle Schaefer.

"It really reframed the whole process for me; that was the turning point," Hunter said. "I had originally planned to start a whole new project, but as the second week of the course progressed, I realized I needed to pick up the project from two years ago."

That's all it took. Hunter submitted her third grant proposal and learned it was approved in early August.

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