Leading by Example: Three Red Cloud Teachers Pursue Advanced Degrees at Creighton

October 9, 2017



Red Cloud alumna Ethleen, Lisa, and Melissa all knew they wanted to focus their careers on supporting young people. While staying connected to the Red Cloud community, each one completed their bachelor’s degree and eventually returned to campus to serve as professionals—Lisa as a teacher and Ethleen and Melissa as student support specialists and counselors in the middle and elementary schools. Today, all three women are pursuing their master’s degrees at Creighton University, supporting each other along the way. Lisa is working toward an advanced degree in educational leadership and hopes someday to become a principal. Melissa and Ethleen are in a school counseling program with a particular focus on providing preventive mental health support for students in K-12. 

For each of them, pursuing advanced education means more than just being a role model for Red Cloud students. They want to create positive change and opportunity for youth across the Pine Ridge Reservation.


What brought you back to Red Cloud after graduating? What made you want to make your career here? 

Lisa: I ended up getting a job here at Red Cloud while I was pursuing my bachelors in elementary education at Oglala Lakota College. Red Cloud was so supportive, helping me with my tuition, and letting me take hours off from work to go to school. I always wanted to work with the kids and graduated with my teaching degree. 

Ethleen: I chose to work at Red Cloud for similar reasons. I worked as the grants assistant in the Advancement Office and they were extremely supportive of me pursuing my bachelor's degree. At that point, I went off to explore different jobs within the social work field but I was drawn back to Red Cloud because of the community of compassion and love of higher education. 

In high school I went through one of the first traumatic losses in my life. I lost my mom in 2008, between my sophomore and junior years. I just wanted to quit, I wanted to give up. I lost everything. But I remember I came back to school my junior year, and all the teachers and counselors and Jesuits were all so supportive. They helped me in prayer, and education and counseling, and it just showed me to never give up. There’s always going to be someone there for you. In that way, I continued to keep moving forward…not only for my mom, but to make Red Cloud proud of me as well. 

Some of my mom’s last words to me—she was literally on her deathbed—were to always be proud of Red Cloud and always be proud that that’s where you come from. 

Melissa: I think Red Cloud helped to put education first; it kept education as a top priority. With Red Cloud, it really pushes you out of your comfort zone. I was taking classes that I would never wanted to take and doing things in high school that I would probably never do, so I think it really pushed me out of my comfort zone and that really just shaped me for the rest of my educational career.  

Why did you want to go back to graduate school?  

Ethleen: I decided to pursue my master’s degree to lead by example—to be a better resource and a better person of service for the students and families that I work with. I knew that I could do more and be more, but I needed the credentials to back that up. One of the things that I learned working at Red Cloud is that the kids are always looking up to me. So that’s one of main reasons why I’m doing it, so I can be a positive role model in their lives. 

Lisa: The reason I went back to school is to get the experience of being a leader, being in a leadership role. Another reason is to better myself is a person. [Getting my master’s degree was] one of the goals I’ve had since getting my bachelor’s. Also, for my family—I want to be better for them. My daughters are little girls now, but when they grow up I can tell them I have a master’s degree, and be a role model for them.  

Melissa: I went back because Red Cloud gave me that push and that extra confidence that I needed. And I really just want to do it for the students I work with. I want to give them my best self, and by pursuing and receiving my master’s, I can give that back to them. I can show them that I graduated from Red Cloud—we all graduated from Red Cloud—and if we can do it then so can you. 

And I think I want to do it not only for our students but for youth around the reservation. They think that furthering your education is just impossible, because you don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough support, But I think, with the right people and with your own support, you can do it.  

What change do you hope to bring to the community by pursuing your master’s degree?  

Lisa: I want to be a role model for the younger students. There are kids who want to go to college or graduate school someday—so just to be there to help them along the way and to tell them they can do it. [To tell them] it’s possible to do anything you want to do.  

Melissa: I want to stay here at Red Cloud and help build the counseling program at the elementary level. But thinking further than that, in the community, [I want to] let  people know that we’re here to support them. They don’t have to be students or families at Red Cloud—just know that there’s somebody on the reservation that cares, and that truly wants you to succeed. I think that, by receiving our master’s, we’re giving back to the youth and giving them hope. They are not alone and we’re here for them, even if they don’t know us, and they don’t go to school here. I think [we’re] letting them know there’s somebody here that cares for them and about them. 

Ethleen: I am from the Pine Ridge Reservation and I have lived here my whole live. I’ve seen the hardships that the children and families endure due to poverty and alcohol abuse and neglect. And I just want to lead by example and leave an impact of—if I can do it, so can you.  


Photos © Red Cloud Indian School


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