Be the Change: Native American Rapid City woman makes 40 Under 40 List

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - A Native American woman received a huge honor for helping college students reach their academic goals.

The top 40 business professionals under the age of 40 who are making big strides in the Northern Plains - that's who's on Prairie Business Magazine's 2018 40 Under 40 List.

Valeriah Big Eagle of Rapid City gained recognition as one of those individuals.

Big Eagle, 40 Under 40 business professional, says, "I was like 'Woah!' Like I said I don't expect things like this to happen to people like me. I'm a first-generation college student. I grew up in poverty. I grew up on the reservation so stuff doesn't happen to people like me."

Big Eagle worked as a student success advisor for Black Hills State University-Rapid City.

She provided academic advice, scholarship sessions, and mentoring to students, especially Native Americans.

Big Eagle says, "It almost turns into counseling, informal counseling as well because I did and do have students just come in just because they needed to talk, but because I had that experience and I went through it myself. They didn't have to explain anything to me. They could just say, 'Val, I'm going through this.' And I understood."

Big Eagle says everything she does is for her tiospaye, or extended family, and her native identity is deeply rooted in her blood.

"Ever since I was little, I was told you have to do this for your people. You need to come back and you need to do well for your people. It's that collectivism, it's that mindset that we want to help our people," Big Eagle said.

After her time with BHSU, Big Eagle started a new job with South Dakota State at the Native American Nursing and Education Center.

Her new job is to recruit and retain Native American nursing students.

Along with being a mother of three, a full-time employee, and a first-time homeowner, Big Eagle is also a Ph.D. student studying for her doctorate of education through the University of South Dakota.

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