Native student driven by love for community

Jaissa Grunlose aims to use the opportunities presented to her in college to give back to the Native community



Jaissa Grunlose, chairman of the Native American Women's Association, discusses how she got involved with NAWA on Feb. 25 at the WSU Native Center.

MADDY BEAN, Evergreen reporter

Students can sometimes find it difficult to balance culture and academic life as they find their identity.

For Native American student Jaissa Grunlose, she said she hopes the power she has gained will help her spread the message and awareness of her people throughout campus, as she pushes on through her college goals.

Grunlose, a junior marketing major with a minor in indigenous studies, is part of the Colville tribe, but grew up off the reservation in Yakima.

After being accepted into WSU as a first-generation student, Grunlose said she decided it was time to grow closer to her Native roots and become an active member in the Native Center on campus.

She is involved in multiple multicultural programs and clubs, including the Native American Student Center, the Tribal Nation Building Leadership program and the Native American Women’s Association, of which she is the chairman of this year. Grunlose is also the reigning Miss Pah-Loots-Puu for WSU’s powwow.

“I think if I wasn’t involved so much in the Native Center … and it wasn’t like my second home, it would definitely be hard for me to fit in here,” Grunlose said.

Joelle Berg, WSU’s Native American Retention Specialist, met Grunlose two years ago when she became Grunlose’s mentor through the Multicultural Student Mentoring Program.

Berg said she has watched Grunlose grow into a student leader, while helping guide her through her academic career.

Berg said Grunlose’s compassion and activism are her most defining traits, and that she is always trying to educate people on the things she believes in.

“I know she’s going to do really great things,” Berg said.

Kyra Antone, Grunlose’s friend and senior digital technology and culture major, said that she is excited to see where Grunlose’s determination will take her.

Meeting through the Native Center, Antone said they have been close friends for four years.

“She has such a powerful voice,” Antone said. “And she’s already shown that she has leadership skills to back that up.”

Grunlose’s achievements are well-rounded, as she received the Gilman Scholarship last year.

Grunlose said before college, she didn’t know what scholarships were. After working with Berg and learning how she could use them, she sent in her two essays to the Gilman application and to her surprise, she won.

“I am extremely grateful to have received the scholarship,” Grunlose said. “It was an honor to be able to write about my experience as a first-generation Native American student, my hopes and dreams, how studying abroad would benefit me, and then getting recognized for it. Overall, it was definitely a step in the right direction in being able to get more Native students studying abroad and having that resource available.”

Grunlose used the Gilman Scholarship to join a study abroad trip to Spain last year. She said the friendships and connections she made while studying abroad were special to her, as was the opportunity to teach the native Spaniards who Native Americans are.

But, Grunlose said, her greatest accomplishment to this day is coming to college. She wants to follow through on her education in order to make her family, and people, proud, she said.

“My late grandfather, Philip Grunlose is a very important inspiration of mine,” Grunlose said. “His commitment to improving Indian Country and various tribal programs is a legacy that I want to continue within my family. And as a first-generation student, it is extremely important for me to follow through with my education for that reason.”

Grunlose’s mother, Dianna Grunlose, made it a goal to always teach her daughter about their tribe and culture, as she works for the Yakama Nation. She said she has tried to help and support her daughter whenever she can, as Jaissa pushes for her future in education.

“She gets pulled in different directions, just like all of us do,” Dianna said, “but … she really does come through, and pinpoints what she really needs to focus on and works hard for that. That, I really think, is hard for young students.”

Grunlose plans on going to graduate school, and either wants to go through the American Indian Entrepreneurship Program at Gonzaga or explore UW’s business school.

She said she wants to be on the Tribal Business Council and assist tribes with their economy and organizations, as well as provide resources for college students. But for now, she is simply ready to become the leader that WSU’s Native community is proud to see her be.

“Someone needs to step up, and keep these programs going and get the word out there that Native people are in your classes,” Grunlose said. “We still exist and we’re a really inclusive community.”