BOZEMAN — Six Montana State University students were recently recognized by MSU’s Department of Native American Studies, each awarded for their efforts and honored for academic excellence in leadership and making a difference in the community.
One of the students, Max Yates, is one of a select handful to ever have come from this campus with a certain scholarship. “Bozeman has been such a vibrant and inclusive that has opened all of these doors for me,” Yates said.
For Yates, at the time a senior biochemistry major from Bozeman, it’s a list that keeps growing alongside his work ethic.
“Everything that I've accomplished and everything that has been... the doors that have been opened have been due to all of the people that have been around me, and a lot of that has been growing up in Bozeman and deciding to stay at Montana State and deciding to stay at the Public Land Grant Institution,” Yates said.
The honors have come like birds to a cornfield, including the Daniel Voyich Community Involvement Award. According to MSU, the award honors Dan Voyich, a native of Yugoslavia and an MSU graduate who ran a Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Sales, Arizona, which convinced him of the need for advocacy and support for Native students.
He returned to MSU and met with then-president Leon Johnson, to gain support to begin a Native student support program at MSU. Voyich then spent 30 years as director and adviser to MSU American Indian and Alaskan Native students.
"I was not involved in the department in the academic sense but I worked with the Native American Students Success Center, which is a one-room part of the Wilson Building at Montana State that is now getting an entire building to itself which is very exciting,” Yates said.
Yates added that like many Montana stories, his starts from humble beginnings.
“I just simply went up and asked if there was any way that I could get involved, if they had any tutoring programs or anything,” Yates said. “They shared that they didn't have any money for paid tutors and I was like, I'll do it for free if you want."
"We tried to establish the program based on mutual respect, recognizing that I am not indigenous so I simply came in and sat in the center one day and they said there is a tutor here if you want him," he continued. "Students were a bit reticent to start using me at first but then it started picking up and they started utilizing my services. Now we have over 11 tutors."
Yates worked to expand MSU’s American Indian Success Center tutoring program, seizing its reins for three years. The senior also pushed to bolster support in partnership with MSU’s Honors College, with more eyes on him every step of the way.
“Tutoring was so impactful because that's a point of vulnerability to come up and say hey, I need help with this subject, whether it's math, chemistry, economics, Spanish, whatever,” Yates says. “That's a point of really sincere authenticity."
The Sigma Phi Epsilon and Eagle Mount volunteer even snagged recognition as a Truman Scholar, one of only eight that MSU has seen in the last 11 years and 17 since the scholarship was founded. Yates also secured the MSU Award for Excellent this spring and is an MSU Presidential Scholar.
Many hats, all as a Bobcat. “It's been really humbling,” Yates said. “There's that word again... and really wonderful just to be involved with the Native American students at that center."
Credit that he says all goes to those who have supported him - as he hopes that growing list all points to making a difference. When asked if making a difference meant a lot to him, Yates responded, "absolutely. You can always. make time to give back."
As for Max’s next steps, he plans to join a program in Sitka, Alaska called “Alaska Fellows,” where he will help students who grew up in towns without high schools at a rural boarding school. After that, he hopes to attend Cambridge and eventually go to medical school.