Apela mentors now on campus assisting Chickasaw students

This article appeared in the May 2023 edition of the Chickasaw Times

Standing the test of time, many educators have come to accept one of strongest ways to teach is through peer mentorship. Acknowledging the tried-and-true method of peer guidance, the Chickasaw Nation’s Chokka’ Kilimpi’ (Strong Home) Recruitment and Retention Program began placing Apela (to assist) peer mentors to support students on represented college campuses in 2022.

University of Oklahoma sophomore Kyrtleigh Snow was one of the first students to be selected as an Apela peer mentor. Majoring in social work, her duties for the Chokka’ Kilimpi’ Recruitment and Retention Program (Chokka’ Kilimpi’) will also prepare her for a future career.

“Apela mentors just started working last spring,” Ms. Snow said. “Our goal is to help Chickasaw students. That can be through tutoring, scheduling advising appointments with the university, or just being a friend and friendly face to new students.” 

Apela mentors are part-time student workers who guide others during their academic career and prepare other Chickasaw students for success. By guiding Chickasaw students through social, cultural and academic support, Apela mentors will help retention and graduation rates climb at schools with the Chokka’ Kilimpi’ program.

“There are more than 200 enrolled Chickasaw students at OU alone,” Ms. Snow said. “We know this because of the number of students funded through Chickasaw Nation Higher Education programs.”

According to the Apela handbook issued to each peer mentor, “Mentors offer support and guidance to Chickasaw students on college campuses as part of the recruitment and retention program.”

“Apela mentors help to connect students with others their own age who can help guide them,” Ms. Snow said. “Apela mentors also plan events and give advice with the perspective of college students in mind.”

As Chickasaw students, Apela mentors are required to be full-time students at the colleges where they provide mentorship. Apela mentors are in their sophomore, junior and senior years. This helps mentors access the institutional knowledge and necessary skills to help underclassmen navigate both the schools and Chickasaw Nation resources.

“As a freshman, I wanted to find a major that would allow me to help others,” Ms. Snow said. “At first, I thought I wanted to be in the medical field, but I realized that wasn’t for me. Social work gives me flexibility and opportunities to help people. So does being an Apela mentor.”

While the mentors’ duties are varied, their most important responsibility includes developing relationships with Chickasaw students. Apela mentors must also be familiar with the educational institution’s departments and campus surroundings, as well as assisting Chickasaw Nation’s Chokka’ Kilimpi’ staff with identifying campus, tribal and community resources available to Chickasaw students.

“The Chokka’ Kilimpi’ program is located in the Casa Blanca building,” Ms. Snow said. “It is next to the OU campus. I love the history of the building. It was originally a sorority house. They did a great job restoring it. Now it is used to provide Chickasaw students access to educational resources, and a place for camaraderie."

Ms. Snow’s hometown is Sulphur, Okla. She is a 2021 graduate of Sulphur High School.

About the Chokka’ Kilimpi’ (Strong Home) Recruitment and Retention program

The Chickasaw Nation Chokka’ Kilimpi’ Recruitment and Retention Program prepares, supports and empowers Chickasaw students for success at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Community College, Murray State College and East Central University. The newest addition, Mid-America Christian University, also serves Chickasaw students.

“The recruitment and retention program isn’t like any of others on campus,” Ms. Snow said. “It’s a home away from home and a study spot for me. I go to Chokka’ Kilimpi’ to relax.

“It really helped my freshman year to have a place to go between classes. It is a place to get my mind off classes and spend time with other Chickasaws.” 

The Chokka’ Kilimpi’ Recruitment and Retention Program’s on-campus coordinators serve as academic and cultural advocates and provide a connection to Chickasaw Nation programs and services.

The program helps meet the academic needs of students by assisting in the development of their academic skills, identifying campus and tribal resources, creating networks of support on and off campus and building a stronger connection to their Chickasaw culture.

The services provided are designed to help students meet other Chickasaw students who attend these colleges and find a sense of community on campus. The program is unique in that it caters to the specific needs of college students by aiding in their academic success.

“I also use the printing services at Chokka’ Kilimpi’,” Ms. Snow said. “It costs to print anywhere else on campus. That is the ‘Holy Grail’ of resources. There are also snacks, drinks and study spaces provided.”

The Recruitment and Retention program offers cultural, social and academic events, including coffee breaks, lunch breaks and study hall sessions. Cultural classes such as basket weaving and drum making are also program components.

“I have been reading the Chickasaw Heritage series found in the cultural library at the Chokka’ Kilimpi’ building,” Ms. Snow said. “I learned how the Chickasaw and Choctaw split off. While I knew we were once one tribe, I didn’t know the whole story until I started reading at the library.”

Chokka’ Kilimpi’ student centers on college campuses provide students with a sense of belonging. These young adults are often far from family and home, frequently for the first time. Chokka’ Kilimpi’ provides them a communal environment in which they can feel at home so they are successful in their college experience.

Students in the program have attended First American film festivals, Oklahoma City Thunder games, Women’s History Month movies and discussion panels. The program partners with the Native American Student Association on each campus to provide event and networking opportunities for students.

“My Chickasaw and Choctaw heritage is a huge part of my life,” Ms. Snow said. “Growing up in Chickasaw territory, this is something I want to share with others. I have always been proud to be First American. It is something I have always explored my entire life. I continue to grow and learn. I feel so blessed.”

Chokka’ Kilimpi’ provides an extra avenue of support for students during their studies, making sure they stay on track in their classes and graduate on time. Coordinators also assist students by guiding them through scholarship and grant processes and letting them know when new funding opportunities are available.
“Education is important to my family,” Ms. Snow said. “My parents both went to East Central University. My brother graduated from OU in 2021. My grandpa on my mom’s side of the family, Jack Kirby, where I receive my Chickasaw heritage, did not go to college. It was important to him that mom did.”

For more information about the program, visit Chickasaw.net/RR, email RR@Chickasaw.net or call (405) 767-8882.