- Faces of CMN
At the College of Menominee Nation, we are proud and honored to have people from numerous walks of life brighten our halls. With Faces of CMN, the Institutional Advancement department speaks with staff, faculty, alumni, and students to learn more about them, their lives, and how they help shape the College's legacy.
Could you please give us your basic information: name, title, and a brief descriptor of what you do at CMN?
Posoh! I’m Nicholas Schwitzer, I’m the Media Specialist at the Sustainable Development Institute at the College. My position is…an interesting position, fully encompassing of what media “is” and what the media needs of the SDI are. At a base level, I run SDI’s social media channels: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, anything else we’re on, showcasing events and anything we might put up there. I also shoot pictures and videos for events - educational videos we may want to create, like Dr. Frank [Kutka]’s Sustainable Attitude tutorials.
Other projects I’ve worked on are the C.O.M.I.C.S series of lectures that tied into an actual comic. I worked on that with CMN alumni Justin Gauthier, who was also at the Institute previously. That’s sort of what I do in a nutshell, but the nutshell itself is larger than that description. <Laugh>
How long have you been with SDI?
Do you want the official or unofficial answer?
Let’s go with both.
So I was officially hired in February 2021, but way before that, I wanna say…2013? I was part of the Sustainable Leadership Cohort, which is put on by SDI as part of the Posoh Project. That’s where I picked up a lot of my video editing skills, from now-Doctor Renaldo Morales, and I was there for all four years of high school, four years of summers. After that, I was an intern at SDI for the Visualizing Forest Futures project, which was an internship where we collaborated with Penn State to look at the Menominee forest and try to get an idea of how climate change might affect the forest, its make-up, and how we could manage it now and in the future: fire, wind damage, the human aspects.
As a result of that project, I was brought in as the Media Specialist, so I’ve been going about ten years unofficially, and just about three officially.
Quite the winding path - in a good way! No one I’ve talked to over the course of these interviews has had a remotely similar path towards the College, and I find that fascinating. We all take these very different paths, but end up with similar ideologies.
Are you an alumnus of CMN, and if not, how did you find your way here?
I'm not, but my mom, Lela Schwitzer is. I used to follow her to some of her classes here at the College. I believe she went through the Teacher Education program here, where she was working with students, investigating, and I remember one of the projects involved them having to engage with the youth. My brothers and I were always the test subjects for those projects. <Laugh> It was very fun, and part of that also meant I got to come here, so I was up here a lot as a little kid. I remember when the Culture Building was first built, they had a gym class and brought all the kids in there.
So before all of my media work, I was here because my mom was a student here.
What about the College and SDI appealed to you back then, and appeals to you now?
The initial draw was the Sustainable Leadership Cohort. Part of that project gave students the opportunity to learn film-making skills. Being a kid in high school, that felt really cool. The [College’s] youth engagement definitely drew me in, and then hearing, “Hey, you get to learn about filmmaking, and you get to learn about sustainability,” it was fascinating. The first year we ran a project where everyone [in the Cohort] got to learn more about the Menominee culture, which I was thankful for as a first descendant, so I was happy to learn more about my culture. As part of that, we worked on a project regarding sturgeon, their history, and the cultural aspects surrounding them.
One of my earliest videos still on the SDI YouTube came from that project.
Do you think the media landscape is more amenable to getting out the types of issues SDI is speaking and teaching about these days? With how volatile parts of social media have become, does that make your mission more challenging?
I think the fact that media and sharing information is constantly changing, and constantly goes hand in hand…SDI’s main objective is obviously researching sustainability, but we also have to inform the community about it. There’s no world where we go, “We researched it!” and someone asks, “Can we see it?” We can’t say, “no.”
<Laugh> “Absolutely not!”
That’s what we’re doing with our agricultural programs, food sovereignty, etc. As far as our media approach is concerned, trying to find what works in this new era, what connects with the youth, with older generations, our elders…I came up in an era where YouTube was still “the big thing.” People were becoming YouTube stars, sharing information and their stories that way. Now, that’s TikTok, and seeing the new generation of the SLC be so into it, I tried to learn from them a little more, and see what they’re utilizing it for. As a result, SDI now has a TikTok page in development.
I think it’s reflective of the campus, because we have traditional and non-traditional students, we see that Facebook gets out into the community more, but TikTok is gaining on it, and then past that you have YouTube not quite doing what it used to, not quite being the premiere channel for the youth anymore, but they do get to it eventually. It’s all about trying to get eyes on what we need to show off.
Correct me if I’m wrong: I wouldn’t describe you as “the face” of SDI, but you’re very much showcasing the face through social media, that sort of business. What keeps you invested in the SDI legacy?
I definitely don’t see myself as the face. SDI, collectively, we’re a cast of characters over here. I think everyone has their specific realms: climate change, sustainability, sustainable agriculture, water, a bunch of other things - I feel like I’ve just narrated the four elements, but we all come together to be SDI, or the Avatar. <Laugh> I think we have these people on our staff who work with us, collaborate with us, and I see them very much as the experts, and I serve to give them a chance with my camera and microphone to share their knowledge with the community. I feel like…I don’t have a better analogy for this, but in Greek lore there’s the ship that takes people to the underworld, and I’m the ferryman.
Yeah, very much like that. I feel like everyone has their own voice here, and I just help get it online. <Laugh> Our interns do a bunch of stuff, too. When I was an intern here, we had a blog series that documented the whole process, whereas I’m sort of supplementing that role here, now.
I’ve been interacting with SDI for almost a decade now, so I’ve seen it in different eras. From when President Caldwell was Director here, to when I was becoming an adult and coming back to see how the College has evolved, and now being here as a worker and seeing what the future looks like…I feel like I’m in the middle of where the past is starting to be not quite distant memory, still informing us of what we need to do, but I also see the future: what we need to do for this next era of the Institute, what we can expand upon. That keeps me invested, because there’s something very exciting about seeing what’s happened before, how it informs right now, and what we’re gonna do next, especially with a new Director coming in and having so many exciting ideas about how to implement these plans.
Where do you think CMN goes from here? The 30th Anniversary is ongoing, you’ve got a new Director in place, but what do you think the aspirational “next step” is for the College, or for SDI in particular?
Our past influences our future: history tells us what’s next. I think expanding on our work…through renovations at the College we have to go through our storage areas, and we’ve been digging through stuff to find things from previous eras. They did a lot of work, we did a lot of work, and whatever happens in the future, there’s still gonna be a lot of work. I think, in the future, we’ll refine a couple of things we’re already doing. We do a lot of research here, a lot of internships, and I think providing those opportunities in the future to CMN students, to give them a chance to learn about sustainability based in their culture, but also give other institutions - the UW System, Lawrence - a chance to learn about the Menominee perspective on sustainability and widen their perspective as well, to showcase its value to them, us, and the world…I think that’s significant. It’s about just sharing the message.
We may need a little more space to store all of us here at SDI. <Laugh> Bigger dreams and aspirations.
Is there anything you can share as a message of hope and goodwill to the community and students at large?
I think the community should know that CMN and SDI are very much a “land of opportunity” on the reservation. I’m here in this position because the College got to me early. I was here as a little kid, here as a high schooler, and as a result of all that experience, I’m able to work for my community and service them. I think that’s something I’d recommend: take advantage of the opportunities we provide as an institute, as a College. I’ve never taken a class here, but I still have been open to opportunities presented to me because of the tribe. If you’re a little bit younger, and you don’t have a chance to take part in the Learn & Earn program, we still have a lot of youth education programs. The Aquaponics team is working on something, SDI is potentially trying to revitalize the SLC…
There's plenty of opportunity to grow, learn new skills, and learn more about our culture and ourselves. There are things that come out of this experience that I don’t think I would’ve been able to do if I didn’t have the College here to support me.
Come visit us, come see what you can learn.
Thank you so much for your time.