Haskell Indian Nations University’s new president will serve the most students the school has had enrolled in a semester in 12 years — a task he isn’t taking lightly.
Frank Arpan, eighth president of Haskell, was inaugurated on campus Friday morning. His vision for Haskell is one that centers humanity, he said during his speech.
“When we look at Haskell as a holistic learning environment, we’re talking about the whole person, not just their educational development,” Arpan said.
With 880 students currently attending this fall semester, Arpan’s emphasis on enrollment during the past year of serving in the interim president position paid off, and he said he plans to continue helping Haskell grow.
Arpan hopes to bolster Haskell’s “transformative learning environment,” where students representing more than 140 tribal nations around the country can exchange knowledge, strengthen together and impact future generations, he said.
Rhonda LeValdo, dean of humanities and interim vice president of academics, facilitated Friday’s ceremony. Director of the Bureau of Indian Education Tony Dearman led Arpan through the oath of office, swearing him in as president.
Representatives from the Yankton Sioux tribal council, Arpan’s tribal nation, gathered to present him with gifts during the ceremony.
Robert Flying Hawk, chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, noted a parallel between Arpan and the emerging fall season.
“It is the change of the solstice,” Flying Hawk said. “This is coming into the fall season, and the fall season is a season of change, and the school here has that leader now as you just heard, [who] is going to initiate that change and bring some new energy to this environment.”
This year is also notable for Haskell as it marks its 140th anniversary.
Though Arpan loved his college experience, he admittedly struggled with attendance in classes, he said. But the meaningful support he received inspired his career in higher education.
“I’ve had a number of advisers and faculty, professors and mentors that really displayed a passion for education and for helping students achieve success,” Arpan said. “And I decided that is what I’m going to do: I’m going to work in higher education and I’m gonna help people the way that I was helped.”
As he works to continue Haskell’s legacy, Arpan said he’s shifting from a “student-centered” approach to a “human-centered” approach, valuing the overall well-being of all students, staff, administrators and faculty. Increasing mental health support on campus and collaborating further with community partners will be vital, he said.
“We don’t have to be perfect,” Arpan told those in attendance. “All I’m asking is for the best that you can give because our students and our future students are worth it. Onward Haskell.”
Students had Friday off from classes, and some attended the ceremony, along with administrators, faculty, staff, representatives from area tribal nations and community members. Those in the full auditorium cheered for Arpan and welcomed him with open arms.
“I’ve known Frank for about a year now, and we’re not the closest, but I like him enough,” joked Jaylon Romine, student and Haskell Brave, before leading the closing prayer. “I think he’s exactly what Haskell needs. He’s a relatively young face, and I think he’s gonna do a lot of good things for the university.”
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.