Rachel Watson joined the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Department of Education this summer as a college advisor, bringing a diverse and unique educational background and career experiences. The Navarre family descendant has only held the position for a few months, but learning more about CPN heritage and interacting with students top the list of favorite moments so far.

“The opportunity to serve the Nation was really important to me,” Watson said. “Being able to work in specifically my Tribal community has been really rewarding.”

The Gates Scholarship recipient attended the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in history and minor in German. Watson then attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a Master of Science in education.

The new position with the Nation combines Watson’s college-curated expertise in educational theories and writing inclusive curriculum with a love of assisting students one-on-one to achieve their goals.

Generation to generation

A career in education sparked Watson’s interest in the seventh grade while representing the Classen School of Advanced Studies at debate tournaments. As Oklahoma City Public Schools’ magnet school, Classen SAS offers a rigorous curriculum and classes and extracurricular activities not widely available, such as debate.

“OKCPS was doing so much for me, but I also knew that it was not doing that for every student in the district,” Watson said. “They didn’t all have access to the same opportunities, which is kind of why I wanted to go into specifically equity work in education.”

While working for a company focused on helping school districts across Oklahoma meet state educational standards, Watson applied for CPN’s college advisor position. The Nation’s education department supported Watson’s higher education journey, providing inspiration to reciprocate that support to other CPN members.

“The important part of education is using what you learn to give back. … That’s kind of how I think of it. What can I learn to better position myself to serve the people that I’m working with or the Nation?” Watson said.

Now, Watson helps high school graduates and college students plan their degrees, offers advice on academics and school choices, and discusses scholarship opportunities with Tribal youth. This summer, Watson spent time with interns and Potawatomi Leadership Program participants, worked on special projects, and learned about the Tribe as a government, Potawatomi culture as well as its enterprises.

“It’s been a really great learning opportunity and really great to get to know more about all of the Tribal services, not just what we do in education,” Watson said. “But there’s a lot offered through the Workforce and Social Services and other branches that I just did not know about prior to working here.”

After taking debate for the first time in the sixth grade, Watson used those years of experience to lead a team at an all-boys Catholic school in Philadelphia as a grad student. After completing college and moving to a job with little to no interaction with students, Watson longed for a more hands-on approach.

“I didn’t expect to miss coaching debate as much as I did when I had to say goodbye to those students in Philadelphia,” Watson said. “And so building relationships with students, being able to help others grow and watch them succeed — be it at a debate tournament or at college — is something that’s been really valuable to me.”

The position at CPN bridges the gap between both sides of Watson’s career goals.

“If you have any kind of trouble with completing your degree, you can come talk to us, and we can help you get it sorted out. Sometimes colleges can be very bureaucratic, and cutting through the red tape and getting the help you need is a challenge. And so we’re here to help with that,” Watson said.

The department’s services pertain not only to high school seniors. CPN’s college advisors take appointments with all students, regardless of age, including those starting graduate programs while working full time and those trying to complete their degree years after they began.

“We’re here for anyone,” Watson said.

Find the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Department of Education online at cpn.news/education. Apply for Tribal scholarships at portal.potawatomi.org.