Stephanie Hawk began working for Citizen Potawatomi Nation nearly 15 years ago. In that time, she has reported to departments across the Tribe, including Workforce Development & Social Services. She accepted a new challenge in December as a college advisor in the CPN Department of Education.
Her new role allows her to meet with students of different ages, helping them put together a college plan, including how to pay for it. She also teaches college and career readiness to high school students across Pottawatomie County and ensures access to other assistance programs.
Serving the community
As part of Workforce, Hawk served as a community services counselor and point of contact for household maintenance programs such as Low Income Heating Energy Assistance. She provided information and application advice to impoverished CPN members and other Native Americans attempting to receive funds for rent and utilities.
“It was definitely a very rewarding position over there, but this is too, in a different way,” she said. “But I know some of the families that are coming through here, and I know that they’ve struggled. And so it’s good that they’re are looking ahead.”
The students that come into her office want a house and family of their own someday, and a degree and substantial career make it easier to pay bills.
She sees connections between the two positions. Both help build a client’s self-sufficiency and require a significant amount of kindness.
“No one’s situation is the same. But if you can empathize with them, it sure does mean a lot more than, ‘Here’s a piece of paper. Yeah, go ahead and fill this out,’” she said.
Hawk uses her experience as an advantage, keeping assistance program applications in her desk and teaching those around her about new opportunities to support Tribal members.
Hawk accepted the transfer to the education department because she wanted to work with youth. She walks them through applying for the Tribal education scholarship, which awards $750 to part-time and $2,000 to full-time, qualifying students.
She also provides information on additional kinds of scholarship and guides students through ACT preparations.
She spends part of each week teaching college and career readiness to ninth and 10th graders across Pottawatomie County in Oklahoma through Native Youth Community Project grant funding. High schoolers in rural, poverty-stricken communities experience limited access to this type of assistance. Hawk speaks with them about opportunities and goals they consider unachievable.
“Sometimes it becomes a one-on-one session, where they don’t usually get to talk to a lot of different people one-on-one. So, they kind of get to open up a little bit more with me,” she said.
Recently, the education department took students from NYCP schools across the county to Oklahoma City Community College. Hawk enjoyed watching “their eyes light up” and used the opportunity to instill the vastness of life’s possibilities.
“A lot of them have never seen a college campus or even thought about going to attend college. So that’s been pretty rewarding getting to put that thought of, ‘Hey, maybe I can be the first generation or be the first one in my family to be able to even go to school,’” she said.
Dedication to education
The department often never knows what CPN members achieve in school, their career and life in general after receiving Tribal support for their higher education.
This April, CPN held the first Graduation Celebration Banquet at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center to find out more about the recipients from across the country and celebrate.
“When we’re providing these scholarships, we really want to know how they’re doing. … We also want to find out how it’s benefited them, but not only them, how can they benefit the Tribe,” Hawk said.
She received her associate’s degree in social work from Seminole State College with the help of Tribal scholarships and gives back to the Nation as a college advisor.
Back to school
Hawk plans to return to college this fall to earn her bachelor’s degree, ultimately pursuing a master’s in counseling.
“It works on both ways because I’m seeing them achieve their goals, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. I’m telling them what they’re supposed to be doing, and I need to hurry up and get on my own stuff too,’” she said.
Hawk practiced assisting someone through college before her new role. Her husband, Jason, graduated in August 2018 with his master’s in mechanical engineering after 11 years in school. She inspired him to achieve his dreams by asking, “If you could do anything, what would you want to do?” She asks her students that as well.
Due to health issues, Hawk missed a significant amount of high school. However, she graduated and continued her education.
“I use our stories with some of the high school students because they’re like, ‘I’m not going to be able to do it.’ And I say, ‘Well, we had to work ourselves, had to work our way through school, and it’s possible. It’s a struggle, but we did it,’” she said.
According to her, leading by example yields the best results. The Navarre family descendant keeps in mind that it is all about the long game, for both Tribal members and herself. Working for the Nation professionally has been a career goal since she was a teenager.
“I really enjoy helping people and forming connections with families. I still do visit with a lot of different families that I’ve been close with over the years,” Hawk said. “Now, some of their kids are going to school, so they referred them back to me. So, that’s always exciting to see that they’re doing good.”