to get to know incoming students and interact with them in
academic and social settings. There were many who had ups
and downs throughout the school year, but we always had the
support of the mentoring program to keep us on track. In fact, it
became more like a second family. Even after graduation, I have
continued multiple friendships with those who I mentored as
well as those who mentored me.”
USD’s Native Student Services is another area Pickner became
heavily involved in. A few years ago, as USD explored the idea
of starting a center for diversity, a place where students of all
backgrounds could gather, Pickner was a proactive student voice.
In advocating for the Center for Diversity and Community,
Pickner was outspoken about the need for the center, and he was
able to rally students around it. The center opened in November
2014 and provides a gathering place for all students.
According to Jesus Treviño, Ph.D., associate vice president for
diversity at USD, many of these accomplishments wouldn’t have
reached the level of success they have without Pickner’s efforts.
Trevino said he was instrumental in the multicultural leadership
retreat started three years ago at USD, as well as the Voices
of Discovery (VOD) program, where students from various
backgrounds engage in intergroup dialogues related to diversity,
and regarding the issues of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity,
class, disability status and other salient social identities.
“Those are all big programs,” Treviño explained, “and he led
the group year-round.”
The Diversity Symposium, an event to bring together student
groups for a day of educational and cultural awareness and to
promote positive intergroup relations on campus, was also a
project of Pickner’s, along with fellow student Morgan Catlett.
“USD is a diverse campus, and it’s important to bring
awareness to any issues that come up,” Pickner explained.
“Whether it’s on a community, regional or national level,
students need to be well informed about diversity. More
importantly, the symposium was a student-driven
initiative that was meant to reach out to the campus
to tell our stories as diverse populations and engage others
in a meaningful discussion.”
“It’s a gift that he’s left the USD community,” Treviño said.
“He’s a natural born leader; he rolls up his sleeves and leads by
example. He was never afraid to get his hands dirty and get
things done. He leaves behind a legacy that leads to our goal
of inclusive excellence at USD. We have a long legacy of Native
students who have left their mark here at USD, and he is one
According to Pickner, all this involvement helped him excel
as much as his skills benefitted the organizations.
“Being involved helped me to grow my leadership and
communication skills,” he said. “I learned how to interact
with different groups of people who had different experiences.
It also took a lot of time, and so it also taught me to manage my
Time management is important in his current position as a
research associate at Sanford Research, where he juggles several
research studies at any given time. The Collaborative Research
Center for American Indian Health (CRCAIH), a grant
focusing on improving the health of native communities, is one
of his latest major projects. It’s no small undertaking; there are
three projects tied into the five-year grant. With it, Pickner was
granted the opportunity to work on an emergency department
Use and Care in American Indian Children project, a cause near
to his heart.
The CRCAIH project is complex, with no less than 25
working components and many community partners. Among
other tasks, Pickner conducts focus groups in tribal communities
across South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota, and then
shares findings with community leaders or presents the results
at local, regional and national conferences. The goal is to build
research infrastructure and capacity in those communities so
they can perform their own research.
“What I really like about the study is that it’s community-
based participatory research,” he revealed. “The reports we
generate are specific to a city, and we are able to tell residents
what we find and use those reports at stakeholder meetings.”
Pickner is passionate about making real impacts in a
timeframe where he can see direct results. “I want to make my
‘He’s a natural born leader; he rolls up his sleeves and leads by example.
He was never afraid to get his hands dirty and get things done. He leaves
behind a legacy that leads to our goal of inclusive excellence at USD.’