A passion for the environment and his fellow Menominee people drives University of Wisconsin Oshkosh senior Tom Kenote’s academic goals.
As a UWO McNair Scholar, he’s getting an opportunity to set up his own research studies and explore just what it takes to succeed in graduate school.
Kenote grew up in the Menominee Nation, a Native American reservation in northeastern Wisconsin and a county that he said is among the poorest in the state.
Although he lived on the reservation for several years, he attended public school for much of his academic career.
“The reason why my parents chose for me to go to school off reservation is because the quality of education within the reservation isn’t that great,” Kenote said. “It just made sense to go to school off the reservation.”
Kenote said his experience in both settings was academically and socially beneficial to his upbringing.
“On reservation, I’m surrounded by my people, and when I leave it’s almost like a whole different world,” he said. “I’m grateful my parents raised me in both environments, so I understand how to walk in both worlds … so to speak.”
After he graduated Gresham High School, Kenote tried four different undergraduate programs before arriving at UW Oshkosh. He said that a number of factors contributed to his frequent movement, but UWO’s superior environmental studies program, in addition to its proximity to his home, made him stay in Oshkosh.
Kenote works as a sustainability intern on campus, where he deals with different facets of the University’s resource consumption and its impact on the local community.
“I love ecology and learning about what surrounds us and how we operate within that environment,” he said.
Kenote is part of UWO’s McNair Scholars program, a post-baccalaureate achievement program that prepares underrepresented, first-generation college students for graduate school. The program allows its scholars to select a mentor and perform research, all while applying to graduate schools and studying for pre-graduate tests.
“It’s very much an intense program for passionate, potential graduate students,” he said.
Through the program, Kenote recently to traveled to Cambridge, Mass., for a three-day research conference, where he presented his findings on the identity and educational experience of the Menominee people.
During his time in Cambridge, Kenote had the opportunity to listen to keynote speakers from Harvard University and MIT as well as attend a variety of workshops and panels.
“The atmosphere is very intellectually competitive,” he said. “You have to be on your A-game all the time, but it was definitely an awesome experience.”
Kenote said he will most likely stay in Wisconsin to get his graduate degree and, ultimately, a doctorate. Kenote hopes that his future educational achievements will allow him to fulfill his aspirations of returning to the Menominee Nation to open a school that focuses on sustainability.
“I think it’s important that I give back to my community and my people,” he said.