BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– One South Dakota University president has been recognized on the national stage.

South Dakota State University president Barry Dunn was awarded the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Higher Education Prize for his work with the Wokini Initiative, improving college access and success for Native American students. Dunn is the first university president from South Dakota to be given this honor.

Since he became university president in 2016, Barry Dunn has worked hard to make sure the campus is welcoming to all students.

“The person that nominated me is a very respectable individual nationally and to have them nominate me was humbling in itself and then to win the award in the competition that we had, literally thousands of people are nominated for this is really exciting,” said Dunn.

Dunn is passionate about giving everyone equal opportunities in education and created the Wokini Initiative to increase programming for Native American students on campus.

“My mother was an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and was born on the Rosebud (Reservation) and found her way to college in a time in the 1930s when it would have been very hard for a young woman of color to do that,” said Dunn. “I think education is the most transformative agent of change in society, so that’s why I’m just thrilled to be able to direct these resources and to help the state of South Dakota live up to its responsibility of public education.”

But Dunn didn’t just start the program, he also makes sure to form close connections with the Wokini scholars, providing a strong role model for the students to look up to.

“President Dunn, his goal is to just be there and be that helping figure in any capacity he can, it’s really nice, it’s a connection that we’ve definitely utilized a lot at the Native American Student Center and one that we haven’t taken unnoticed,” said Wokini scholar Ty Ducheneaux. “I mean he’s playing a large role, he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate, it’s just nice to know he will reconnect with his roots and be there to assist us.”

Teaching students the importance of education and being nationally recognized for it.

“We know here on campus how big of an impact it’s making, but since the national level is finally shedding some light on it, and showing that there is opportunities for other universities to follow suit,” said Ducheneaux.

“Really humbling, I don’t see my work that way I see it real this is my job I need to do this so, but it’s really great,” said Dunn.

Others awarded the honor were Cheryl Logan from the Omaha public schools and Roy Pea of Sanford University.