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WWU / Fairhaven College of Interdiscipinary Studies

Quote: ACS greatly influenced my path by exposing me early in my college experience to many diverse issues, communities, and perspectives. - Charlene Stern

Charlene Stern

Rural Planning Coordinator

What made you decide to concentrate on American Cultural Studies?

I started my freshman year at Fairhaven College with plans to join the Law, Diversity & Justice Program (LDJ). After several semesters in LDJ, I realized that the program was not the right fit for me. Thankfully I met with Larry Estrada who recommended the American Cultural Studies (ACS) Program. As a young Alaska Native woman, ACS was in many ways my introduction to the history and experiences of other communities of color. Courses like the American Indian Experience helped me to also better understand the historical and political influences that shaped the experiences of my own community.


How did you choose your career/field?

When I was researching graduate programs, one of my ACS peers recommended that I look into Community Planning Programs. I immediately became interested in the field and eventually pursued a master’s degree in Community & Regional Planning from the University of New Mexico.


What has your path since ACS looked like?

After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I continued on to receive a master’s degree. I have spent the past five years working with Alaska villages in numerous capacities. I currently serve as a Rural Planning Coordinator where I provide technical assistance to villages in the development and implementation of community plans.


How did ACS influence that path?

ACS greatly influenced my path by exposing me early in my college experience to many diverse issues, communities, and perspectives. ACS also helped to prepare me academically for graduate school and to nurture within me a lifelong commitment to community-based work.


What kind of training, licenses, and education were required?

Having a formal education in community planning gives me credibility in the mainstream planning community. I also maintain my professional membership with the American Planning Association and will eventually take the exam to become an American Institute Certified Planner.


What kinds of prior experiences were essential?

My prior experience of working with tribal communities was essential. My graduate program was very community-based which gave students an opportunity to gain hands on planning experience before we even graduated. I had also traveled quite a bit and was willing to journey the often long distances between Alaska villages (most of which are not connected to the road system).


What other attributes (personal or otherwise) were essential?

I have always been more of a listener than a talker which I feel has helped me be a better planner. When I facilitate planning meetings, I try to say just enough to get community members talking among each other. Humor is also one of our Athabascan cultural values so I try to incorporate it into my work whenever possible.


Reflecting on your time as a student, what was the best/most important/influential part of your experience?

The most influential part of my experience as a student was having the opportunity to be mentored by Professor Dan First Scout Rowe. Never having had a single Native teacher growing up, it was a powerful experience for me to see someone like Dan teaching in a university setting. The constant support and encouragement he offered me and my fellow Native students was absolutely key to our success. When I was selected as the Outstanding American Cultural Studies Graduate of the Year, I chose Dan to walk with me across the graduation stage which remains one of my proudest moments in life.


Please describe a typical day for you.

A typical day involves communicating with tribal staff on community development projects, providing technical planning assistance, and reporting on project activities.


What does the future hold for you?

I hope to continue working with tribes to develop plans that honor their cultural values and vision for the future. This fall I am taking my first course towards a PhD in Indigenous Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I would also like to publish more articles on the topic of Indigenous Planning.


American Cultural Studies

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