Remote site fills career education gap for Far North AI/AN communities

Born and raised on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in rural Northern California, Misty Knight never would have imagined a path to a PhD. would be possible. With more than 70 miles of dangerous, sometimes-icy, often-impassable roads preventing access to the nearest college campus, it was hard enough to imagine a clear path to class.

“I didn’t know about enrolling in school or financial aid or anything,” recalls Knight, already a mother at 17 and struggling to bring her life and career plan into focus. “I realized I needed to work or go to school.”

Knight was among the first in her community to connect with College of the Redwoods’ Klamath-Trinity Instructional Site (CR-KTIS), a remote learning initiative that has now provided career and technical education to the outlying region for more than 20 years. Today, Knight stands as one the site’s proudest success stories, having parlayed her College of the Redwoods associate degree into a bachelor’s, a master’s, and soon enough, a doctorate in Early Childhood Education (ECE). Meanwhile, she’s managed to earn a living giving back to the program that provided her spark, as site director at KTIS.

“I wouldn’t have gotten that far without College of the Redwoods,” admits Knight, who began exploring higher education through EMT and Early Childhood Education classes at KTIS, before choosing to make the latter her life’s work. “[I] never would’ve had the confidence.”

Funded by a Native American Career and Technical Education Program (NACTEP) grant and furnished by College of the Redwoods faculty and on-site advisors, KTIS is a frenetic, frequently chaotic, wonder of patience, persistence and adaptability. The site’s success depends not only on the dedication of instructors, tasked with a multi-hour, round-trip commute one to three times per week, but on the whims of unpredictable factors like weather and wi-fi.

“There are a lot of tech issues because it’s so remote,” explains Molly Blakemore, director of marketing & communications at College of the Redwoods. “[Then] there are issues like fires and roads... getting faculty to commit to going out.”

Despite the challenges, College of the Redwoods has worked with instructors, advisors and on-site administrators like Knight to develop the fledgling program into a proven pathway for AI/AN students. Career education offerings continue to evolve each year, with Early Childhood Education, Business and General Studies ranking among the most popular classes. 

College of the Redwood’s flexible, on-site arrangement allows students to take as little as one class, building a foundation of knowledge and confidence to either advance in higher education or accelerate a career path. It’s a common occurrence, according to the site director, to see a participant end up at Humboldt State or Cal Poly Humboldt after “starting small.”

“You don’t have to do full-time. You can take one class. You can take two classes and be part of my HCATEP program,” says Knight. “[I] try to share just how valuable this education is, how lucky they are to have a program like this.”

KTIS students also have access a full slate of support services, including advising, tutoring, financial aid, career planning and transfer assistance. Additionally, the program provides basic assistance like gas vouchers, stipends, textbooks and supplies. For many students on-site, the program represents the first inkling of confidence and connectedness when it comes to the larger academic world. 

“They have a lot of support,” says Blakemore. “[KTIS is] a very easy first step into college, which opens doors to other pathways to four-year colleges and beyond.”

The benefits of the remote career education site are more evident than ever, according to Knight, who continues to see her own success story play out in her students’ lives. Having built her career around the idea of higher education access in her community, she recognizes the first glimmer of confidence when college “clicks” for them… and perceives the pride they project on the day they earn a degree.

“The little ones are getting older, switching into higher education,” observes Knight, who was inspired by her own experience to enter the field of ECE. “[They] have that person to say: ‘You can go to school. We can help you. There are options.’”

One such person is Matt McKindley, Lead On-Site Advisor at KTIS and proud College of the Redwoods grad. Like many of his current students, he didn’t consider college an option until he encountered College of the Redwoods. In McKindley’s case, that confidence wouldn’t come until much later… nearly two decades after he graduated high school. 

“I realized that not only could I succeed, I could excel,” recalls the Corsair-for-life, who was initially inspired by a TV spot touting Redwoods’ affordable pathways. “Being able to come back and be in the position to meet people like myself … I wanted to be a part of it.”

Starting as a member of the custodial staff at KTIS, McKindley felt an immediate connection to the site and its mission. Soon, he’d begin to recognize his potential to change lives, starting with his own. 

Upon graduating from College of the Redwoods, he enrolled in Humboldt State’s social work program, where he’s set to earn a bachelor’s degree this spring. Meanwhile, he managed to work his way up to the site’s lead advisor role, an accomplishment McKindley says he never would have imagined when accepting the custodial job.

“These are all things that would not have happened [without CR-KTIS],” says the life-changing late-bloomer, who cites individualized student support as the site’s single biggest strength. “It’s designed for people to succeed.”

Thanks to the mentorship of leaders like McKindley and Knight, the Klamath Trinity Instructional Site’s mission continues to provide unprecedented access for traditionally underserved students in a way that hits home. With her niece and daughter both thriving as KTIS program alumna, Knight can claim at least three testimonials in her family alone. 

“I’m proud, but I’m more grateful,” reflects the master’s degree-holding mother of four. “To my community, everyone here, it’s an honor to work with students in my tribe, help them with their education. 

“We can really make a difference in peoples’ lives.”