Yurok tribe looks to the future with Kiwi FutureSelves software

The tribe aims to lift the number of Yurok students who develop and reach their educational and occupational goals

Northern California’s Yurok Indian tribe has bought New Zealand applied psychology software company FutureSelves’ career development package, to help its youth map out a better future for themselves.

The tribe aims, with the software’s help, to lift the number of Yurok students who develop and reach their educational and occupational goals.

FutureSelves maps out how a person sees his or herself in the future. It does this by helping people develop effective plans and strategies. Different versions of the software are used in rehabilitation and management development programmes. But all share common approaches to developing a person’s motivation and decision-making skills, and enhancing performance.

FutureSelves’ director, Dr Geoff Plimmer, on whose PhD research the software is partly based, says the program is used in professional development, to align organisational and personal goals, and quickly resolve any workplace issues.

FutureSelves was established in 1998 to commercialise PhD research. The company began selling its software in 2002. The Yurok initiative is the latest foray into the US, where the program is already used by the University of Colorado, to focus on students at risk of dropping out. It is also used by the Los Angeles Urban League, which provides leadership programmes for young people from minorities, and by charter schools in the US.

The program has also been sold to Hong Kong and Australia, where it is used by tertiary students. The United Kingdom uses it for a different purpose — for getting the long-term unemployed back into the workforce.

Around 50 New Zealand secondary schools also use FutureSelves, in classes, small groups and one-on-one.

In another link with New Zealand, the Yurok tribe’s acting executive director is a Maori, Reweti Wiki. He is married to a Yurok.

There are considerable parallels between the Yurok, California’s largest Indian tribe, and Maori, both of whom have faced social disruption caused by colonisation. Both have lost traditional lands and, in the case of the Yurok, in the 1850s families were relocated to a reserve. Their children were also forcibly removed to government boarding schools, where they were denied the right to practise their cultural traditions. Since then, education has not always been highly valued by tribal members.

The Yurok reservation, at 63,035 acres, is the size of many cities or US counties. The largest employer in the area is a maximum security prison.

Plimmer visited the tribe this month. “There seem to be similarities with Maori, such as a growing valuing of education, and the need to make education meaningful and relevant,” he says.

The Yurok’s FutureSelves project is being funded by a federal US Department of Education grant.

“FutureSelves is very well suited to the Yurok because it tackles core problems such as defining career goals that are relevant to their cultural lives,” Plimmer says.

“Because we look at wider issues, we can help make education culturally relevant. We can also tackle barriers to achievement, such as motivation, which is often where the real problems lie.”

“The tribal executive wants to develop specific Yurok careers, such as in tribal ecology or fishing, specifically relating to the local community, so tribal members have a future with the tribe and don’t have to leave the area.”

Plimmer says FutureSelves is about people understanding themselves and developing personalised achievable goals.

“It includes the context of students’ lives, values, and personal beliefs – so it’s quite holistic. The trade-off for any applied psychology tool is to balance comprehensiveness with speed. Most of our clients are pretty busy and don’t have a lot of time, but they realise problems can be complex. Overall, our approach is about using technology to do what it does well and to help people do what they do well.”

The software is web-based and was developed in .Net by Equinox.

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