Dunn wins national education award for Wokini Initiative

SDSU photo: South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn greets students at the American Indian Student Center on campus.

PHILADELPHIA – South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn has been awarded a Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education for his work with the Wokini Initiative.

The three 2022 winners of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education were announced Tuesday by the McGraw Family Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. 

Dunn was recognized with the Higher Education Prize for his work to improve college access for Native Americans, advancing the principles of equity and inclusion and demonstrating the power of education to elevate human potential, according to a news release.

He was also instrumental in advocating for a new federally funded grant program for tribal students at 22 land grant universities and tribal universities.

“I am extremely humbled and honored to receive this prestigious recognition and would like to thank the selection committee for choosing me,” Dunn said in a statement. “These types of recognitions do not represent the work of one individual, but rather the work of many. The Wokini Initiative is something that has deep meaning to me personally but would not be possible without the support and effort of hundreds of people throughout the state of South Dakota and the United States. I am grateful for their effort and belief that we are providing important opportunities for our American Indian students.

“There has been early success in building lasting change into South Dakota State University to better serve our Indigenous students, but we also recognize that there is still a great deal of work to be done,” Dunn added. “Education is the most powerful and transformative agent of change to improve our common good, and the support for the Wokini Initiative provides our students an opportunity to embrace their culture while working toward a future that positively impacts society. We will continue to provide those opportunities and open doors for hundreds of American Indian students in South Dakota.”

The Wokini Initiative was launched in 2016 during Dunn’s inaugural address with the purpose to better serve South Dakota’s tribal members by improving access to the benefits of higher education. The initiative works to increase collaboration and partnerships with tribes and tribal organizations; provide sustainable financial resources that include student scholarship; increase the American Indian student population on campus to mirror the population in the state; improve Indigenous student success through cultural awareness and build a new American Indian Student Center in the heart of campus.

Funding for the Wokini Initiative has come through private donations to the SDSU Foundation and revenue generated by land as part of the South Dakota Permanent Trust Fund. To date, more than $25 million in philanthropic gifts have been provided to Wokini and with Dunn’s advocacy, the U.S. Congress supported The New Beginning for Tribal Students grant program as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The program appropriates $5 million annually among the 50 states in the U.S.

The private donations have included more than $9.8 million in endowments and a $4 million lead gift to build the American Indian Student Center in 2020. Additionally, the Wokini Initiative received grants from the Bush Foundation and the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropy.

Dunn and fellow recipients Cheryl Logan, superintendent of Omaha Public Schools and winner of the Pre-K–12 Education Prize, and Roy Pea of Stanford University, winner of the Learning Science Research Prize, will receive $50,000 and an awards sculpture.

“The McGraw Prize was established in 1988 to honor my father’s commitment to literacy and education and to shine a spotlight on innovative and dedicated educators who empower our students and enhance our society,” said Harold McGraw III, former chairman, CEO and president of The McGraw-Hill Companies. “I salute this year’s winners – Cheryl Logan, Barry Dunn and Roy Pea – who meet the highest standards of excellence and who have changed the lives of so many by their leadership and passion.”

“These inspiring education leaders have changed the lives of so many individuals through their work. Each represents the best in our field and what it means to be an educator. Their impact is profound, and we are so proud to honor their outstanding contributions,” said Pam Grossman, dean of Penn GSE and a leading expert on teacher quality.

The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation selected Penn GSE as the home for the McGraw Prize in 2020. The partnership includes administering the annual prize, an awards ceremony and celebration in November and ongoing programming with more than 100 past winners, including symposiums and a webinar series.

Through a public nomination process, McGraw Prize awardees were submitted for consideration by their peers, with winners then selected during three rounds of judging, including a final round by an independent panel of esteemed leaders in the field. Past winners have included teachers, professors, superintendents, university presidents, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and public officials.  Many continue to play major roles across the education landscape.

To learn more, visit McGrawPrize.com.

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