Supporting American Indian Students

Aug 20, 2020

Lea Carr is retiring on September 1 from her position as assistant director of the AILRC after 19 years of service to students at UMD.

Born and raised in Duluth's Central Hillside, Lea Carr never thought about going to college, but her mother insisted on it. She started UMD in the fall of 1972 and, like many students, had stops and starts along the process of completing her undergraduate education. "When I started UMD in 1972, there was not the support of American Indian students that the American Indian Learning Resource Center provides," she remembers.

Previous to her employment at UMD, Carr worked as a nurse's aide, a nursing assistant, and a telephone operator. She lived in Michigan, Alaska, and Iowa before coming back to Duluth in 1987. She returned to school at UMD, first part time and then full time, and completed two undergraduate degrees, a B.A. in American Indian Studies, and a B.F.A. in Art Education.

Carr started working at the American Indian Learning Resource Center (AILRC) on November 5, 2001. "My interest has always been how to increase the use of our office and to make better connections with the American Indian students and to build community and a common ground for them," she says.

While working in AILRC, Carr worked diligently to improve recruitment and retention of American Indian students at UMD. She obtained a Master of Education degree and partnered with the Kathryn A. Martin Library on tribal newspaper preservation.

It was Carr's idea to invite students, staff, and faculty to the AILRC office each month to celebrate birthdays with free cake or to gather together for meals, coffee, and tea outside the classroom. These gestures of hospitality made a difference. They helped establish the office as a welcoming and comfortable place for both Native and non-Native students to meet and study and helped improve communication between students, staff, and faculty.

"When previous students I have seen outside the university setting say to me, if it wasn't for the AILRC I would have quit school, I know we are doing something right," says Carr.

Carr's retirement plans are not defined yet. Once the pandemic passes, she hopes to continue singing with the Duluth Symphony Choir, be active in her quilting group, and travel to visit her daughter and son-in-law in Austin, Texas.

The American Indian Learning Resource Center is housed within the College of Education and Human Service Professions. Its mission is to increase the recruitment and retention of American Indian and Alaskan Native students, while promoting a more culturally diverse campus environment.