With decades of experience as an educator, Nola Lodge says she's up to the challenge as the University of Utah's first director of American Indian Teacher Education.

"It just seems to me like it's a position that I've spent 25 years building toward," Lodge said. "I have the experience. I have the connections with the tribes and community groups."

Lodge, a member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, has been a U. faculty member for 13 years in the department of education, culture and society. Her new post was announced recently, along with the hiring of Lena Judee as coordinator for American Indian students at the Center for Ethnic and Student Affairs.

In her new post, Lodge will continue to teach. She'll also work to create relationships with the American Indian community, and within the university to coordinate education initiatives and to recruit, support and retain students.

Initially, she'll also have to rebuild community trust after the university recently turned back roughly $2 million in federal grants aimed at training Native American teachers. The move means this year's American Indian Teacher Training Program graduates will be the last to benefit from it.

Administrators said the money had to be turned back because of a departure of key staff members and a lack of state funding to make the grants effective.

Dezi Lynn, an AITTP student who just received a master's degree in special education, said Lodge's dedication to the students is clear. The question, however, is the university's commitment, said Lynn, who will start teaching next month in Page, Ariz.

"She's a great support for American Indian students, but she can only do so much," Lynn said of Lodge. "Looking at the past support they've provided other programs, we'll see. The U. needs to step up to the plate, they need to prove themselves by supporting her in her position."

College of Education Dean Michael Hardman said he's aware of such concerns, and "Nola will demonstrate not only our commitment, but also our long-term support of Native American education at this university."

Lodge said the creation of her position is evidence of the U.'s commitment to Native American education, as is the recent hiring of Judee. The university also, after more than a decade, recently hired the first full-time director for the American Indian Resource Center.

"To denigrate the University of Utah and what we've done and make it look like this is an insensitive and uncaring university, I need to mend fences and refute that," Lodge said. "The idea that this is the only one (grant) and the university is not supporting it is just not true."

Lodge, who was AITTP project director during its first year, says she herself benefited from a prior grant-funded program. And she says, there will be grants in the future.

Lodge will also be actively recruiting and supporting students. That involves working to ensure students at community colleges and high schools have the opportunity to succeed, said Lodge.

"We've got to get them through high school," she said. "That's the biggest obstacle. Many levels have to be worked with in order to get more people even qualified to come to the teacher education program."

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