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Josh Bulavko ’22 pursues passion for Native American history with RISE grant

Josh Bulavko ’22 poses in front of Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest mountain carving, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

After completing his senior capstone project on the Lakota Nation, Josh Bulavko ’22 dreamed of heading west.

“I wanted to visit the landscapes that I read about,” he said. “The Black Hills, the Crazy Horse Monument, Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Little Bighorn National Battlefield, Devil’s Tower, and so much more.”

So he applied for a Randolph Innovative Student Experience (RISE) grant and, this spring, made the trip with history professor and mentor Gerry Sherayko. The pair visited four states, including the Black Hills region of South Dakota, and other sites related to Lakota history, as well as American Indian reservations in the midwest such as Standing Rock and Pine Ridge.

“It is hard to put it all into words,” said Bulavko, who is majoring in history with a minor in American culture. “I have to say that this trip was certainly the best I have ever taken, and I have no doubt that it will hold value as I continue in the field. I realize that this experience is not possible at many colleges and that is why I am forever thankful that I chose Randolph.”

During his sophomore year, Bulavko participated in another unique Randolph offering: the American Culture Program, which, at that time, focused on the American West.

A planned trip to Utah was canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bulavko, while disappointed, decided to expand his appreciation for American Indian culture with his senior project, “Sovereignty and Survival: Lakota Resilience Since the American Indian Movement (AIM),” and, eventually, the trip funded by the RISE grant.

The Sitting Bull Monument, on Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota, was built in 1953.

“Sitting Bull is one of my favorite historical figures,” he said. “Though their history is filled with pain and sorrow, the Lakota Nation is also rich with cultural traditions that go back for generations. Nothing compares to listening and learning about how various Indigenous people understand the landscapes around them. I believe it’s important to ensure that Indigenous voices are heard and that their history, no matter how troubling, is shared widely.”

Bulavko will continue his studies next year at the University of Kansas, where he’ll work toward a master’s in indigenous studies.

Graduate school wasn’t something he thought would be in the cards for him, but his time at Randolph changed his perspective.

“I never saw myself as a historian until taking classes within the history department. I am so thankful to each professor at this college. Without them, I do not believe I would feel capable enough to step outside of my comfort zone and become interested in a relatively unknown field of study for graduate school.

“My experience here has been one of a kind,” he added. “I have learned so much from incredible and dedicated faculty. I have made so many lifelong friends in my four years here. It has felt like home ever since I walked inside the Red Brick Wall as a prospective student. Though it is going to be hard to say goodbye, Randolph will always hold a special place in my memory and heart.”

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