Native American Cultural Center receives major gift from Ottens Foundation

NACC graduation

The graduation of Native American students is celebrated at CSU. A gift from the Ottens Foundation will ensure that Native students continue to receive the support needed to succeed. (pre-pandemic photo)

A transformative gift from the John and Sophie Ottens Foundation will sustain much-needed programs in the Native American Cultural Center at Colorado State University for the next 10 years.

The $700,000 gift – thought to be the largest current/cash gift in the NACC’s history – will support tutoring, peer mentoring programs, student leadership and professional development, K-12 outreach to indigenous communities, and other community engagement programs. It will augment NACC’s space in the Lory Student Center, enhance the computer lab and library – all of which serve the more than 900 CSU students who identify as Native American.

“All gifts lead to the retention and success of our Native students, including support for their programs and services and upkeep of the center to make it an accessible and welcoming place for all CSU students,” said Ty Smith, NACC director. “We are tremendously grateful for this gift from the John and Sophie Ottens Foundation and their support over many years.”

Tremendous impact at CSU

NACC/Little Shop of Physics
Each year CSU’s NACC teams with Little Shop of Physics to bring fun science education to school children on reservations.

Smith said 13-plus years of support from the Ottens Foundation have had immense impact at the NACC. Prior to their commitment, student tutors and office help volunteered their services. Money from the Ottens provided funds to pay those students and provide valuable professional experience.

“The Ottens Foundation contributions shaped my experiences with the NACC office and gave me a home away from home to combine science and heritage while furthering my education,” said Nicole Kenote (B.S. biomedical science ’13; M.S. toxicology ’15), a research technician at Lovelace Biomedical Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I will be forever grateful for those memorable opportunities, including peer mentoring, tutoring and community outreach, that not only helped provide resources to succeed in my courses, but provided a support system outside the classroom and allowed me to meet lifelong friends. This type of support is crucial for Native American students at CSU to provide a safe and welcoming center where they can meet other Native students with shared experiences, and to support students both academically and culturally.”

Foundation has history of supporting Native Americans

NACC grads
Ashley Carlisle (BS fish, wildlife conservation biology ’17; MS conservation leadership ’19), left, and Amanda Interpreter (BS range ecology ’17) served as peer mentors in the NACC.

The Ottens Foundation was founded in Sedona, Arizona, in 1998 by philanthropists John and Sophie Ottens. The foundation supports many causes but has given significant amounts to provide opportunities for Native Americans in higher education. It has been funding Native programming at CSU since 2007 and helping NACC provide students with the resources to meet their academic goals and thrive in our community.

Among the many students who have benefited from the opportunities provided by the foundation’s support is Deidra Newbrough. The support she received at CSU through NACC inspired her to travel and work in Native American health services after graduation. The support she received at CSU inspired her to use skills as a pharmacist in Native communities in Alaska and New Mexico, which led to her current job in Phoenix.

“I literally would not be who I am without the support of the Ottens Foundation at CSU,” said Newbrough (B.S. environmental health ’11), a clinical pharmacist at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, part of U.S. Public Health Service. “Involvement with and employment by the Native American Cultural Center shaped my whole undergraduate experience. Before applying for my job there, I didn’t have many close friends on campus. At NACC, I was able to find a home away from home, and I built lifelong friendships.

“Involvement with programs like the annual leadership retreat also helped me build my resume, which was beneficial when I was applying to pharmacy school. Programs like these are very important to give Native students at CSU a sense of belonging and support.”

NACC: 41 years of service

The NACC was established at CSU in 1979 and seeks to ensure a successful educational experience for Native American students by providing support and services related to recruitment, retention, graduation and community outreach. NACC embraces and encourages a supportive environment based on the traditions and cultures of Native American peoples.

Part of the reason for the center’s success has been the ongoing support of the Ottens Foundation, something CSU Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes says has been critical.

“With a gift like this, the impact is almost impossible to measure,” Hughes said. “We can provide immense support for several years to come that will reach our Native American population and the entire CSU community. We are grateful to be able to offer continued resources and programs to our students.”