1300 W Park St.
Butte, MT 59701
Montana College Attainment Network support and advance the goal of all Montanans achieving their college, career, and lifestyle aspirations.
Founded and organized around the Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025, which seeks to increase postsecondary completion by sixty percent in the year formerly mentioned, the mission of the Montana College Attainment Network (MCAN) seeks to increase college attainment and graduation rates in the state for all Montanans with specific focus on individuals from underserved communities. We do this by collaborating with our members and affiliates who tirelessly serve students.
How we help:
Ms. Riley Werk, 2021 MCAN Achiever
Ms. Riley Werk was nominated and selected for the 2021 Montana College Attainment Network Achiever Award due to her strong student leadership at Hays-Lodgepole High School. Her nominators felt she was deserving of recognition for the dedication and determination she demonstrated in creating positive changes in her school and community. Riley maintained due diligence to succeed while helping others and continues to grow as a leader.
Her leadership in Hays-Lodgepole’s Schools of Promise program was truly inspirational and it was exciting to see her continue to grow and achieve her goals. She comes from a strong family and has always had a great desire to learn and better herself. She was an essential piece of the OPI Tribal Relations and Resiliency Unit’s state youth advisory program RISE as she consistently provided leadership and guidance to her peers on issues pertaining to student support, technological innovation and maintaining support and social connections during COVID.
In 2021 she and her peers were asked to present to the Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education (MACIE) board and provide them an update regarding the RISE program and their school and community issues. After some initial shyness, she provided a lengthy and detailed update and showed everyone in attendance that she is a determined young lady grounded in caring and kindness. While the focus of the presentation was on the RISE program and improving schools, Ms. Werk also stressed that she strongly desires to be of assistance to all Montana students and believes in her ability to do so.
Ms. Werk also shared the following personal statement in her application:
Ha’ Mikonabi, my name is Riley Werk, I am a junior at Hays/Lodgepole High School and am 16 years old. I am an enrolled member of the Aaniiih nation, but I identify as both Aaniih and Nakoda. I currently reside in Hays, Montana on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Growing up, my culture wasn’t something that I knew a lot about. I attended St. Paul’s Mission Grade School–a Catholic school that my father and grandmothers had attended previously–so Catholicism was my main religious and cultural belief. I always thought about the ways of my people, but it was only after I got into high school that I realized that I needed to learn the ways of our culture. I had seen how much some of the adults had known in contrast to the meager amount the youth knew about our culture and language. Very seldom was there a young kid eager to learn more about our culture, as it was seen as “not cool.” Personally, I viewed it as our ancestors’ values deteriorating away. I decided I needed to begin to learn our culture for myself, and also encourage others to keep the values and traditions alive.
After I got into high school, being a very timid person, I was intimidated by a lot of the people and opportunities that were offered to me. It was only until after I met someone who is now one of my best friends, that I had my eyes opened to achieving that goal of cultural preservation; she led a group of students from our school in an effort to change the name of our reservation and had given a presentation in front of the entire student body. I saw her incredible leadership skills and was truly inspired to learn how to become such a great leader. I joined cheerleading that year and she took me under her wing and mentored me. Eventually, I began taking more opportunities to use my voice as a representation of not only my character but my culture. Additionally, she introduced me to Donnie Wetzel, who specialized in youth leadership, and since then he has given me many opportunities to be an advocate for youth leadership. As I’ve grown older, to be able to share my culture and learn more about other cultures gives me great joy; it is something that I am truly passionate about.
Following my high school education, I plan on attending Stanford University and study to become an English professor. In addition to that, I also plan on continuing to be an advocate for Native youth and sharing the knowledge of my culture with people across the country, to create a better understanding and rightful recognition of our culture that we deserve. I plan on specializing in getting even more Native youth involved in this effort so that the long-standing ignorance about our culture can be eliminated, as well as preserve our traditions and values.
Thank you for your consideration and time. I am honored to have been nominated for this award. I appreciate the opportunity to share my voice and represent my people as well as lead our next generation of leaders.