Carmen Foghorn’s door is open
Program coordinator creates ‘home away from home’ for Native American students

By Claudine Zap, Graduate division


Carmen Foghorn

Student Affairs Officer Carmen Foghorn coordinates the American Indian Graduate Program with the help of program assistant Sumei Chi.
Arnold Yip photo

08 May 2002 | For Native American students on campus, all paths lead to the fifth floor of Barrows Hall and down the corridor to Carmen Foghorn’s office in room 598. Most likely, they will find the door wide open. As full-time coordinator of the American Indian Graduate Program, Foghorn devotes her days to supporting, encouraging and connecting students throughout their graduate school experience at Berkeley.

“As people come to visit our campus, I try to make sure that our door is open,” says Foghorn. “We want to make sure people feel comfortable.”

Foghorn’s open-door policy comes out of her past experience. Her father was a day laborer and her mother’s education didn’t go beyond high school. So the idea of attending college once seemed rather remote to her. However Foghorn, who is half Isleta Pueblo and half Navajo, benefited from outreach at the University of New Mexico, where she was recruited after graduating from high school in Albuquerque in 1969. Now Foghorn recruits students at other college campuses on behalf of Berkeley.

Outreach and more
Hoping to encourage Native Americans to enroll at Berkeley, Foghorn is on a mission to revamp the outreach program. She’s developed new brochures, rebuilt her national mailing list of tribes, and recorded a public-service announcement to run on tribal radio stations across the country.

Radio, she says, is often the best way to reach far-flung communities. “We just got a call from somebody in Alaska,” she says. But her colleagues would confirm that Foghorn’s best recruitment tool is herself. She personally appeals to students who have been accepted by Berkeley and asks them to give it a try.

“There’s such great opportunity here. That’s what I tell the people I meet,” she says. “It’s a great program and an experience that even money can’t buy.”

With 40 American Indian graduate students recently admitted to Berkeley — about twice the number accepted a year ago — such outreach efforts may be paying off.

“We’re really excited, and we’re doing everything in our power to encourage them to enroll at Berkeley,” Foghorn said.

Creating a connection
Thirty years old last fall, Foghorn’s office is part of the Graduate Opportunity Program and serves Native Americans enrolled in departments and colleges as diverse as comparative literature, engineering and ethnic studies. Students served come from many different tribes — from Laguna and Santa Clara Pueblo to Cherokee and Chickasaw.

American Indian students find a wide range of personal and professional assistance in Foghorn’s office. Some have never been away from the reservation and need help making the transition; others seek assistance with housing, financial aid or finding other Indians on campus. Some have questions about where to find the nearest pow-wow or pick-up basketball game.

Whenever she can, Foghorn provides answers to such individual requests. She also sends out regular updates on seminars, local events, scholarships, national conferences and job opportunities — providing a one-stop shop for Native Americans on campus.

Laura Lee Monroe, a Northern Arapaho from the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming, contacted the program when she thought about applying to the School of Social Welfare.

She had been reluctant about contacting the admissions office “because it’s Berkeley,” she reported by phone from the Indian mission school where she works as a career counselor. “Even though I had a strong desire, I didn’t think it would be a reality.”

Monroe decided to e-mail Foghorn, explain her situation and ask for advice. She said she had graduated from Montana State University and then returned to the reservation, where she founded the first child advocacy center in the state. Though accomplished, she felt pressure from her extended family to remain on the reservation instead of leaving for the unknown at Berkeley. “She was very human and anticipated a lot of my fears,” Monroe says of Foghorn’s response. “I didn’t have to vocalize them. Being Native American made all the difference. There was a connection.” With Foghorn’s encouragement, Monroe moved to the Bay Area to attend graduate school at Berkeley.

“If they make the leap, they’ll make it,” says Foghorn. “The majority of our students, they finish.”

Before classes start, the program holds an orientation to help new students develop a support system early on. “Everybody gets to meet each other at the beginning of the year before they get to their programs,” says Foghorn. She keeps in touch with students throughout the year and invites them to Indian taco parties and other informal gatherings held in the student room across from her office. With her warm, inviting manner, Foghorn makes people feel at home. “I want to infuse (the program) with energy and warmth,” she says.

Nowhere is the spirit of the program better reflected than at the American Indian Graduate Program graduation ceremony, which this year takes place Saturday, May 18, at International House. Community members perform tribal dances and songs, and students receive Pendleton blankets to honor their achievements. Afterwards, friends and family share a meal. “It’s a coming together,” says Foghorn. “It’s really mystical.”

When Monroe visited the campus last spring, the program helped her with travel expenses. “I felt like I belonged,” she says. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

This article first appeared in The Graduate, a newsletter for campus graduate students.


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