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MSU Profiles

Inspiring individualism and hope

From teaching a classroom full of fourth graders to advising and counseling native American/American Indian university students, no matter what, Annette Mennem, Native American Center director, firmly believes in the Salad Bowl Theory, which suggests that the integration of many cultures combine like a salad.

"Individualism is so important," said Mennem. "Unlike the Melting Pot Theory, you keep your individualism, you make something great of yourself, and everyone comes together."

Mennem's path to education started at Minot State University. After earning an associate's degree in general studies from Turtle Mountain Community College, she decided to move to Minot and attend MSU, with her eye on an education or criminal justice degree.

"When I got to MSU, I met Wylie Hammond (the Native American Center director)," said Mennem, "And the first piece of advice he gave me was 'You're not ready to start school, you need to wait until January.' I was a single parent, and he knew I needed to wait for the right time."

Mennem did her best in school, but life and things got busy. She visited the center less and less.

"He (Hammond) kept me on track and would send me emails saying I was on the 'naughty list,'" Mennem proclaimed. "I met with him and just cried. When I finished, he simply asked if I was ready to do this. I said 'Yes,' and he made sure I got scholarships, took me to tutoring, and it was all uphill from there."

After completing her bachelor's degree in elementary education, Mennem's eyes were opened to the importance of individualism and getting to know a community. She learned how individuals differ even with a similar background, when she started teaching at New Town Edwin Loe Elementary School. Being Native American herself, she was excited to teach a classroom full of Native American elementary students.

"While we were all native, I learned it was a whole different place compared to what I expected," said Mennem. "There are very different cultures in tribes, so it was another set of challenges, but it was a great opportunity to learn about a different culture from the inside out. New Town is my second home, and I made memories with some good people."

After spending a few years as an elementary teacher, Mennem expanded her horizons and became an academic instructor, life skills instructor, manager and ultimately director at Quentin Burdick Job Corp in Minot.

"I had subbed at Job Corp during the summer months while I was teaching at Edwin Loe Elementary," stated Mennem. "I loved the people and the mission! About 52 percent of the students were minorities, and of that 30 percent were native, so it was the best of both worlds."

While working at Burdick Job Corp, she furthered her education at MSU and completed a master's degree in management in 2007. During this time, Burdick Job Corp had already promoted her from instructor to manager of student training, and she became very involved with intergroup relations.

"I'm a first-generation non-boarding school attendee," said Mennem, "After hearing so much about that, I knew I didn't want any minority to think we did not recognize them for their individualism. That is when I started believing in the Salad Bowl Theory."

After spending some time as manager, Mennem was once again promoted and became the director of administrative support services at Burdick Job Corp.

"People had a lot of faith in me, which I appreciated, because if they had faith in me, I should have faith in myself," said Mennem.

That confidence grew, and ultimately drove her to apply for her mentor's position as MSU Native American Center director.

"I used to tease Wylie (Hammond) about how rough it was to have it so easy and how I would love to have that kind of job," Mennem professed. "Well, he took me up on that and called to tell me to apply, so I did!"

Mennem started the position in 2011. Over the years, she has been involved in a number of organizations such as the Student North Dakota Education Association, Minority Affairs Commission, the North Dakota Student Education Association, the Higher Education Resource Organization for Students, the MSU Diversity Counsel, and much more. She also leads students in planning the annual Native American Spring Honor Dance and Powwow Celebration, which is one of the largest student activities on campus, and the Native American Cultural Celebration. When she is not working or volunteering her time, Mennem enjoys spending time with her husband, Joe, her three children, TJ, Miranda and Kyleigh, and four grandchildren.

"I love my job," said Mennem. "The Native American Center is meant to be a home away from home. I live by the seven teachings: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth. I hope to inspire others to believe that they can do it too."