University of Minnesota
After receiving a Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Endowed Scholarship in 2009, Korina Barry earned her master's in social work at the U this spring.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
A counselor and a scholar
Korina Barry is the first Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Scholar to earn a degree
By Rick Moore
Sitting at a wind-blown table outside a sandwich shop in downtown Minneapolis, Korina Barry summarizes the drama of her high school days as if she’s describing yesterday’s lunch.
Kicked out of Minneapolis Roosevelt for fighting at the start of her senior year…
Lived with her father, her aunt and uncle, her grandmother, the next place with an available couch…
Although she’s matter-of-fact in describing her challenging teen years, Barry is quick to point out one important woman from those days—a counselor at Minneapolis South High School named Patty. College was barely a blip on Barry’s radar screen, even in her senior year, but Patty encouraged her to apply. And when she was turned down the first time at the U, Patty encouraged her to try again.
From that point on, and with a strong support system at the University of Minnesota, Barry flourished.
Six years later, she has bachelor’s degrees in child psychology and American Indian studies, and this spring she completed her master’s degree in social work. By doing so, she became the first Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Scholar to earn a degree with help from the scholarship program begun three years ago.
Barry is now a senior social worker in the ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) long-term foster care unit at Hennepin County. She works with youth ages 13-21 trying to keep them on track or, as the case may be, turn things around.
“They’re all really great kids,” she says. “They just kinda get stuck in sticky situations … trying to be a parent, trying to find a job, trying to find housing when they don’t have rental history. … Almost every one of the youth I’ve worked with has become homeless after aging out of foster care or leaving a foster care home and going on their own. It’s because there aren’t systems set up to help them. So this program definitely helps with that.”
Native to Minneapolis
Barry is Anishinaabe (Leech Lake Band) but grew up in south Minneapolis. While her parents struggled with addictions, she shuttled from home to home, especially after her father went to prison as she was starting high school.
“Until my dad went to prison I was living with him, and then I kind of lived with my aunt and uncle, couch hopped for a while, lived at my grandma’s house for a while. [She laughs.] I was all over the place.”
“I didn’t have the support or the push that some students get from family,” she adds. “So if it wasn’t for that counselor, I probably wouldn’t have made it through college.”
In her first year at the U she lived in the American Indian Cultural House, surrounded by similar students in a comfortable cohort. “It forced you to build a support system and not isolate yourself, which I think a lot of students do—especially minorities at the U of M,” Barry notes.
She also joined the multicultural sorority Sigma Lambda Gamma in her second semester. Founded in 1990, the sorority’s local chapter has women from 25 different nationalities.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for the sorority and the friends I made out of it, I wouldn’t have made it through undergrad … or even grad school,” Barry says.
She says the same thing about her scholarships—some 15 to 20, by her estimate. “I’m definitely the scholarship queen,” she jokes.
When Barry came across the social work master’s program at the U, she knew that was her calling. “I’ve grown up around the situations that social workers work with,” she says. “And I always knew I wanted to give back to the community.”
“That’s what makes it easier for me to do the work I do now with the youth I work with,” she adds. “I’ve been through these experiences. These kids can relate to me; I can relate to them.
“And I want to push them and I want to be Patty for them—the counselor I had—because a lot of them have no support system.”
One of the girls Barry has counseled—who endured more than 45 foster care placements—recently completed a program at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and now has two different jobs as a chef.
Which makes Barry feel even better about her career choice.
“It’s a fulfilling job in that I know that even the smallest things I can do for them are helping them to succeed,” she says.