First Nations EdD Cohort

Community of Learners Developing leaders in First Nations Education

Transformative. Intense. Rigorous.

These are the words students use to describe UW-Green Bay’s first-ever doctoral program—the only one of its kind in the state of Wisconsin—the Doctorate Degree in Education (Ed.D.) in First Nations Education. The four-year program enrolled its first cohort of 12 students in the fall of 2018.

This is exactly what UW-Green Bay Associate Professor and Program Director Lisa Poupart, Ph.D. had in mind as she and her colleagues developed the program. Born out of feedback from First Nations communities throughout the state, leaders asked for a very specific, rigorous program that would balance relational, face-to-face learning with concrete, usable outcomes requiring graduates to further promote cultural insurgence and the vitality of future generations.

“There’s a rigor to the program,” says Poupart. “The listening sessions provided this feedback—they want graduates who understand difficult concepts and can talk about them and write grants, etc. We are telling the students that their communities set a high standard, and we are going to hit those marks.”

Building Community

The Ed.D. in First Nations Education program is centered in indigenous knowledge systems and draws upon indigenous teaching and learning methods from elders and oral scholars, as well as faculty expertise. Classes consist of a set of core courses offered primarily in face-to-face settings, reflecting the strong commitment to the oral tradition rooted in First Nations culture. UW-Green Bay was a natural fit to host the first-of-its-kind doctoral program because of its 20-year history of teaching First Nations education at the University, and its tribal Elders in Residence program.

First Nations EdD Cohort
The Ed.D. in First Nations cohort of learners gathers for a meal following a Saturday class.

The inaugural cohort of 12 began its second fall term in 2019. According to Poupart, the cohort model accurately reflects indigenous teaching and learning, and reflects a true community. “We’ve built something within a community, and the group learns with and supports one another. To have these experiences together is really central to their success in the program.”

Bawaajigekwe Andrea DeBungie, a current student in the cohort, describes her 14 months within the program as transformative. DeBungie is a special education teacher in Ashland, Wisconsin and the recipient of the 2020 Special Services Teacher of the Year in Wisconsin. “The program is very different than anything I have ever experienced, as a teacher or anything,” says DeBungie. “The experiences have helped shape and reshape how I function as an educator, mother, human being.”

The group clearly considers itself a family of support for each other. “There is such encouragement and support within the cohort, and that 100% includes the instructors,” says DeBungie. “I would not be able to do this program otherwise. We all agreed and had conversations about this. We are stronger together.”

Transferring Knowledge

Her experiences have already had an impact in her classroom, specifically as it relates to what she calls the four R’s – relationships, respect, reciprocity and responsibility. “(The program) focuses on relationships, and all students benefit from teachers who invest into them. It has helped me become more intentional as an educator,” says DeBungie, “and work to shift the power dynamic in the classroom from one expert to a community of reciprocal learners and reciprocal relationship.”

“That has been the biggest thing for me. It’s so empowering and so liberating for me as an individual and for the students.”

Fellow cohort member, Waqnahwew Ben Grignon, is a traditional arts teacher at Menominee High School in Keshena, Wisconsin and the 2019 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. A lifelong member of the Menominee Nation, he works to bridge the regular, traditional curriculum with indigenous thinking. His students recently discussed the geometric designs found in traditional beaded belts to help students remember geometric formulas.

The doctoral program challenges all students to think differently, reconnect with their original ancestral teachings and apply it to indigenous education right now. “One weekend we had a small group presentation of a book we were reading,” says Grignon. “This group chose to talk about the book while we were sewing baby moccasins.” Their discussion evolved into radical topics including governance and the state of education in indigenous communities.

“I’m now able to look at a material object (the moccasins) and think back to the discussions we had about the book and what it meant to sit together in community while doing a traditional art,” says Grignon, “and reconnect to the things our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years.”

Exceptional Learning

This type of learning opportunity is at the heart of the program. A weekend class, for instance, focused on generational healing, inviting a plant medicine elder to work with students. The group took plant medicine walks, participated in conversations about healing and cooked traditional, non-addictive pain medicine from student-gathered ingredients. “This was not a western formalized classroom,” says Poupart, “but indigenous formal learning.”

While intense and time-consuming, the program gives a place and space for these highly motivated and extremely committed learners to expand, grow and talk about similar challenges and experiences.

“We are creating a space for them to explore what they are already capable of doing,” says Poupart, “and the energy of that? They are unstoppable.”

–Story by freelance writer Kristin Bouchard ’93

UW-Green Bay doctoral student named state special services teacher of the year

UW-Green Bay First Nations Education doctoral student Bawaajigekwe Andrea DeBungie has been named the state’s Special Services Teacher of the Year. The special education teacher at Lake Superior Elementary School has been teaching for 11 years. “I accept them as they are and how they come into the classroom and foster that,” she said of her students. Read the story from APG Media.

J.P. Leary featured as guest on WPR

UW-Green Bay Associate Professor J.P. Leary (First Nations Studies) was featured on an WPR episode titled “How teaching native history and culture in Wisconsin’s schools became law.” The episode looks into the era before and after Act 31, the law that brought Native American history to schools in Wisconsin.

Faculty note: JP Leary shares expertise at NCORE Conference

JP Leary with author and educator Victor Lewis.

UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. JP Leary (First Nations Studies) presented in three sessions and had a book signing at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity Ethnicity (NCORE) in New Orleans May 29 through June 2, 2018. This conference is the leading conference on race and ethnicity in higher education, and this year attracted nearly 4,000 attendees. His new book, “The Story of Act 31: How Native History Came to Wisconsin Classrooms” was well received. He is pictured signing books with author and educator Victor Lewis. His expertise was shared on a panel for a session titled, “Indigenizing College Access: Perspectives on the Work,” on May 30 and in presenting a session titled, “The Story of Act 31: How Native History Came to Wisconsin Classrooms” on May 31. In the later, he discussed his recently published book, the research process that went into it, and some of the interesting things he found along the way. He also presented a shortened version of his book talk at the Native Delegation to NCORE (NDNCORE) caucus meeting, May 30.

Celebrate the launch of the First Nations Ed. D., Tuesday, April 24

Come hear UW-Green Bay Associate Prof.  J P Leary read from his new book, The Story of ACT 31: How Native History Came to Wisconsin Classrooms and celebrate the launch of the new First Nations Doctorate of Education Program. The event is Tuesday, April 24, 2018 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Education Center for First Nations Education, Wood Hall 410. Please RSVP to Kayu Brooks at


NBC26 reports on First Nations Doctorate

UW-Green Bay’s new First Nations doctoral program will launch in Fall 2018. It is also the first of its kind in the state. Associate Prof. Lisa Poupart (First Nation Studies) told NBC26, “Our first doctoral degree is a recognition of that tradition of honoring indigenous people.”

“They start with introductory courses, like an introductory course in First Nations education and include courses in First Nations law and policy, sovereignty,” Poupart said.

From there, students can take higher level courses of greater depth.

“Our students will be working and training to address issues of concern in the surrounding communities, and that called for a need to do research and address those kinds of concerns, and thus the courses in grant writing for example, or statistics so students can generate research and apply for grants,” Poupart said.

WPR reports on Doctorate in Native Studies

Wisconsin’s only doctorate program in native studies will begin this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. It’s the first public campus in Wisconsin to do so. UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. J P Leary, told Wisconsin Public Radio that the four-year coursework is based on “footwork,” not “bookwork.” Instead of research and dissertations, students will do community-based projects. Leary said 24 people have already applied for the program, but only 12 will be selected. The program is designed for working professionals, such as teachers or social workers. WPR’s Patty Murray has the story.

UW-Green Bay launches first doctoral program in first nations education

On March 22, 2018, UW-Green Bay announced that applications for the University’s Doctorate Degree in Education in First Nations Education are being accepted. This program is the only one of its kind in the state of Wisconsin. has the story.

UW-Green Bay publicly announces Ed.D. in First Nations Education

UW-Green Bay announced yesterday (March 22, 2018) that applications for the University’s Doctorate Degree in Education (Ed.D.) in First Nations Education are now being accepted. The University’s first-ever doctoral program — the only one of its kind in the state of Wisconsin — marks a significant milestone for the University and the state as a whole. The program’s first cohort class will begin in fall 2018. See the full release.

Prof. Poupart talks First Nations Ed.D. on WHBY

“UW-Green Bay is offering its first doctoral program, and it will also be the first in the state to focus on Native American education. UW-Green Bay Prof. Lisa Poupart is the director of the First Nations Education program. She says it’s a perfect fit, because the University has had a longstanding commitment to Native American cultures. WHBY had the story.