December 11, 2023
Kate Vanskike ('22 MA) | Gonzaga Magazine Winter 2024 Issue
The School of Business's American Indian Entrepreneurship MBA (MBA-AIE) has more than 80 graduates, all of whom have received funding from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The two-year program connects students from a wide range of regions through online courses and three in-person sessions per year.
To supplement their coursework, students visit various organizations to see how concepts apply to native-forward business. MBA Director Rebecca Bull Schaefer said: “Students learn about theory, content, history, perspective, and application from both Native and non-Native instructors. Our program teaches students how to lead and develop reservations, government, and business. It is designed to help you think about what you can do to keep it going.”
This desire is evident in the following students. Alaina Kapoeman Davis, a citizen of the Quinault country and a descendant of the Gros Ventres and Hupas. Her entrepreneurial spirit was a natural fit for the program, as she made regalia to help pay for her undergraduate tuition.
Seeing the challenges faced by other Indigenous artisans motivated her.
“I have a friend who is a Coast Salish artist, and as a tribal artist, he has to deal with tax issues every year,” Kapoeman-Davis says.
“There are a lot of interesting hurdles to being an Indigenous entrepreneur, and I want to help legitimize these business endeavors.”
She received the funding and attended a conference of the Native American Financial Officers Association, where she learned about the goal of many tribal businesses to diversify the ways they generate income. With her MBA, she hopes to further these efforts by helping establish the Washington Native Chamber of Commerce to provide resources.
“It's important to keep our money within India,” Kapoeman-Davis said.
Brandon Haugen (Kalispell Tribe) graduated from the AIE program in 2011 and is currently a doctoral student at Gonzaga University's School of Leadership Studies and serves as the Tribe's Executive Director of Real Estate Development. Like many tribes, casinos can be an important source of income, but Haugen is helping diversify its economy with residential, retail, and industrial development.
“The MBA gave me a traditional business background, but the AIE portion allowed me to apply it through a native lens,” Haugen says. “That’s what’s great about this program.”
His work experience helped him realize the importance of leadership, which led him to return to GU to complete his degree again. “I'm interested in learning how leadership impacts the field. What makes people go to certain places?” he says.
Haugen and Kapoeman-Davis agree that Gonzaga University's sense of community is part of the rewarding part of their education.
Kapoeman-Davis has come to campus from Western Washington for three intensive classes so far, and each time he has had the opportunity to build relationships with students and faculty. From dinners to rounds of poker, they celebrate together. That's what she wants to cultivate. She is already passing on her talent for creating regalia by making ribbon shirts and skirts to her classmates.
Haugen said he came to Gonzaga with some trepidation, but “Once I got into the community, I felt comfortable.”
“GU really has a community and you feel right at home.”
Check out Gonzaga Magazine's feature on tribal relations.