Each year, Oklahoma Gazette recognizes 40 individuals age 40 or younger who significantly contribute to shaping central Oklahoma communities. This year, Citizen Potawatomi Nation internship coordinator Mindee Duffell earned recognition for her work helping students prepare for college and careers.
Hundreds of peer-nominated applicants competed in this year’s formal application process. A board reviewed finalists and determined top honorees while considering their civic and artistic accomplishments, commitment to advancing education and dedication to innovating and redefining business practices. Duffell began working for CPN in 2012, first in the human resources department and then in the education department. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 2016, graduating Magna Cum Laude and receiving the Joseph M. Dowd Award, presented to the valedictorian of the graduating class of the College of Continuing Studies.
“I went to college right after high school like a traditional student,” she said. “I went kind of far from home, and I didn’t adjust well, so I didn’t finish my degree. When I began working for CPN, I recognized that I had bigger goals and that having my degree would be important in achieving them. Working here showed me that there was potential and a few key people encouraged me to return to school and finish my degree.”
Her community involvement includes serving organizations like the United Way, Gordon Cooper Technology Center and the International Association of Workforce Professionals. She also is a graduate of the Greater Shawnee Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Shawnee civic and business initiative and CPN’s Noek Nmeshomesek tribal cultural leadership development program.
Her classroom and workforce accomplishments are significant, and her motivation comes from wanting to help build better communities by shaping future leaders.
“Mindee’s warmth, creativity and problem-solving skills make her an excellent internship coordinator,” said CPN Director of Education Tesia Zientek. “She extends these attributes to her family and community endeavors.”
In her current role, Duffell helps tribal members, Native Americans and non-Natives gain work experience in a department that meets their educational and career goals. The competitive internship program provides students opportunities to invest in their future.
The paid, 240-hour program’s careful placement process is designed to give students real-world experience. In turn, they are more competitive in the job market, gain professional exposure and learn from marketing opportunities they might not have otherwise. Eight interns participated in its first year. Thirty joined the second year. One-quarter of those received job offers from CPN.
“Our purpose is to develop and deliver comprehensive student internship, career development and employment placement services in support of both Tribal members and Native Americans’ educational, occupational and personal growth,” she said.
Duffell believes investment in these students builds the tribal community, as students ultimately may return as leaders or employees of the tribe, or stay in Shawnee.
“These people could be part of the community that I live in and raise my son in,” she said. “Keeping this in mind, I hope to instill a good work ethic in all of the interns at Citizen Potawatomi Nation — being able to take the initiative and have a positive attitude with an eagerness to learn. Some people are naturally equipped with these skills; some have to be taught. Showing students soft skills in the workplace and allowing the chance to mess up and course-correct are sometimes the best lessons.”
Her drive to help beyond the boundaries of CPN headquarters is evident in the interactions she has with the people she mentors. In the past year, Duffell has helped students navigating challenging aspects of transitioning from high school into adult life. From finding a place to live, purchasing a vehicle, learning conflict resolution or juggling school and work responsibilities, students understand they can approach her about many of life’s challenges.
“I have a heart and a passion for helping people realize that they can reach their educational and professional dreams; after all, I did,” she said.