Moving in the right direction: Carey student brings equitable education to indigenous students
An arrow is commonly used to signify a direction or path to follow. That’s exactly what Carey Leadership Development Program participant Kyler McGillis wants his organization—All Indigenous Recruiting Organization—to embody: giving indigenous students multiple paths to receive an equitable education.
A 23-year-old North Dakota native and a tribal citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, McGillis always knew he wanted to help his people back home, which led him to create AIRO in November 2020.
AIRO is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides services and support for indigenous students—high school, traditional, and nontraditional—looking to pursue higher education. Whether that be college, trade school, or another option, AIRO is a no-cost service that bridges the gap between Native American students and access to resources for their journey through those institutions.
But it’s not just about schooling; it’s also about inclusion and belonging. AIRO believes that education leads to prosperity, and if students get the guidance and mentorship to know they can do it, it will open doors for opportunity Native American learners may otherwise not get.
“We connect them with other mentors or help them reach other nonprofit organizations that might have what they are seeking,” McGillis said. “We’re creating an academic profile for indigenous students to be seen.”
Even AIRO’s logo has unique depth. The arrow holds a lot of meaning to many Native American tribes, something McGillis says is special to include for a Native-led and -serving organization. The colors in the logo represent the four colors of the medicine wheel: red, black, white, yellow. These can represent various meanings in Native American culture such as the four seasons, four directions, symbol of life, and others.
“I thought this was very important to add into the logo because we are serving indigenous students and trying to help them reach—or direct them to—success,” McGillis said. “And the green mountains represent the tribe I’m affiliated with.”
Moving in the right direction
McGillis says that Native American students in North Dakota might not have the same access as others to resources, support, or mentorship programs that aid in the higher education process. This is due to economic challenges facing the Native community and not knowing where or how to access readily available financial assistance. Without a person—or organization—to support Native American students through the process, they may not be able to complete an education.
Along with lack of resources and support, McGillis says indigenous student athletes in North Dakota don’t have the same exposure to athletics as others in more populated areas.
“AIRO connects student athletes with coaches quicker than they would if they were reaching out on their own,” he said. “We want to become the No. 1 directory for Native American students and show them what resources are available,” he says. “We’re advocating for Native American students and athletes, so they feel supported and have all the necessary information to make informed decisions about their future.”
AIRO connects students to partners schools that offer the curriculum or athletics that the student is looking for. The organization also acts as a network system to help students create key connections with participating schools. As part of its four pillars—mentorship, guidance, advocacy, and a network system—the organization has four partner schools in North Dakota and is working on growing there and in other areas of the United States.
“We’re hosting academic fairs and inviting colleges we would like to work with,” McGillis explained. “And being part of the Johns Hopkins network, it’s an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals on the needs of diverse students.”
From the classroom to the business world
As a current student in the Leadership Development Program at Carey Business School, McGillis says the coursework directly impacts his work at AIRO.
“Accounting for Decision Making with Professor Dalton Tong really sticks out to me. He’s taught us to taking the ‘counting’ out of accounting to better understand the ‘why’ in numbers,” McGillis said. “For me, it helps when fundraising to relay information about our budgets to potential donors and provide them with a clear explanation of the ‘why’. It’s helped to effectively communicate AIRO’s mission. I feel much more confident going into meetings.”
And Carey’s value of boundless curiosity fits perfectly into McGillis’ own values.
“I’m constantly finding new ways to help as many different students as possible. And I think that’s where boundless curiosity works into AIRO, we are trying to serve in the best way possible and not just have a standard set of solutions. We want to solve more and we’re always looking towards the next step,” McGillis said.