'Shy' student finds world of possibilities at MSU Billings

Student-athlete from Poplar leads intertribal club, interned in D.C.
2011-11-06T00:15:00Z 2011-11-06T04:55:05Z 'Shy' student finds world of possibilities at MSU BillingsBy MARY PICKETT Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
November 06, 2011 12:15 am  • 

Hilary Gourneau, 23, came to Montana State University Billings to get a degree.

But outside the classroom, she's packed in more experiences than she ever could have imagined.

MSU Billings opened her eyes to a world of possibilities and gave her the confidence to take advantage of them.

An enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, she graduated from Poplar High School. When she went to Williston (N.D.) State College, she missed her family and returned home to attend Fort Peck Community College before coming to Billings.

A shot putter and discus thrower in high school, she received a scholarship as a member of the MSU Billings track and field team for three years.

It took a while for her to take part in other activities on campus.

"I'm a little shy" she said.

Encouraged by one of her professors to join the Intertribal Indian Club, she went to one meeting and has been gung-ho since. She now is the club's president.

The club brought her out of her shell and to be more outgoing, she said.

She really spread her wings the past two summers when she had internships on the East Coast.

During summer 2010, Gourneau had an internship with the Bureau of Indian Education in Washington, D.C., working on First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move in Indian Country" to get children to be more active and eat healthier. She also took classes at American University.

This summer she was an intern at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Philadelphia working as a secretary with the food safety inspection service.

A senior majoring in elementary education and minoring in Native American studies, she loves MSU Billings.

"The teacher education program here is amazing," she said.

She's found the professors and staff friendly and welcoming. The campus is small enough that it's easier for professors get to know their students and treat each as an individual.

She's proud of getting a 4-point grade average the last two semesters.

After student teaching this spring, she'll graduate in May and then hopes to be an elementary education teacher, following family tradition.

Her mother, Suzanne Turnbull, has taught school, now works for the Fort Peck tribal courts. Her grandmother and aunts also have taught.

Her father, Kaleb Gourneau, lives in Wolf Point. She has an older sister, Emily, in the U.S. Army and a young sister, Amanda, in middle school.

MSU Billings is great place, but Gourneau feels strongly that American Indian students should consider starting at tribal colleges where they are close to their families.

"Family is everything" to Native Americans, she said, and it's difficult not to be able to visit siblings and cousins every day.

When Gourneau lived in the MSU Billings dorms her first three years, she was a little lonely at first because there weren't many Native Americans living on campus.

But now that she lives off campus, she misses parts of dorm life.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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