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Winter 2015/16

9

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

of them.”

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 effectively.”

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.’

—Jesus Treviño