New endowed scholarship for Tribal members or their descendants

Norman ’69 and Linda ’71 Baer have been interested in Native American cultures since early in their higher education careers. For many decades, they have been involved in making a college education more accessible to Native American students.

This past year at WSU, the Baers have invested in Native students by funding The Norman and Linda Baer Scholarship for Native American Students, which they endowed with an initial $25,000 gift.

WSU presently enrolls 768 Native American students (656 are undergraduates), which comprises 2.9 percent of the WSU systemwide population (higher than the national average for state universities). Both WSU and the Baers are committed to opening doors for more Native students in ways that meaningfully reflect those students’ culture and values.

“As WSU was established on—and has benefited from—Tribal homelands, we are working to do more to help Native students receive a WSU education,” said Zoe Higheagle Strong, WSU’s vice provost for Native American relations and programs and Tribal liaison to the president.


A commitment to representation

portrait-style photo of Norm and Linda Baer side by side.
Norm and Linda Baer

The Baers’ interest in—and commitment to—Native American students has evolved over the course of their careers.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1969, Norman’s initial graduate studies in Virginia were interrupted when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. After his military service, he and Linda landed at Colorado State University, where Norman received his PhD in forest ecology and Linda her master’s degree in sociology.

They then moved to Brookings, South Dakota when Norm accepted a teaching and research position in the horticulture department of South Dakota University, and Linda accepted a teaching assistantship, entering the PhD program in rural sociology.

Even before Linda completed her doctorate and was hired as an assistant professor at SDSU, she was teaching courses on race relations and social justice, which propelled her research into Native American cultures and education. During this time, she visited all the Tribal colleges in South Dakota to better appreciate the teaching of Indigenous traditions and to build relationships between them and SDSU.

Then, while at a Title XII US Agency for International Development Conference, Linda had a fortuitous meeting with a director from the Ford Foundation, leading her to submit a proposal to the foundation that ultimately awarded SDSU the first of several grants to connect the university more closely with South Dakota’s Tribal colleges.

In 1990 the Baers moved to Bemidji State University (BSU), where Linda accepted the position of senior vice president of academic and student affairs, and Norman accepted a teaching position. They loved the beautiful campus on Lake Bemidji in the great Northwoods of Minnesota, where the university was surrounded by the three largest Tribal nations in the state—Leech Lake, Red Lake, and White Earth.

Linda went to work developing relationships with Tribal leaders and gaining support for the building of the BSU American Indian Resource Center, which became home to the university’s Indian Studies program and a place where Native students could access a range of services and resources—from learning the Ojibwe (Chippewa) language to obtaining professional opportunities.


Lives shaped by social justice

While Linda has been closer to issues of Native Americans through her work, Norman cares deeply about the importance of making higher education more accessible to Native students. Together, they have spent decades engaging with Native Americans and working to increase their educational opportunities.

The Baers see the promise of the future through higher education and want to use their resources to keep social justice issues at the forefront of higher education. They also believe higher education must do a better job at making college more affordable. All told they have funded five scholarship funds—two at WSU (the Native American scholarship and a social sciences scholarship), and one each at Pacific Lutheran University, Bemidji State, and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

WSU Native Programs logo, depicting a tribal patterned circle with two feathers hanging from it.
WSU Native American Programs logo

Their WSU Native American student endowed fund is providing a scholarship to a WSU Native undergraduate each year. Students must be an enrolled Tribal member or descendant from a federally recognized tribe and in good academic standing at any WSU campus.

But both the Baers and WSU believe more progress needs be made toward greater representation, and WSU’s goal is to increasingly provide Native students a full suite of intellectual, academic, cultural, and social support that cultivates a sense of belonging.



Their Coug beginnings

The Baers’ life together began at WSU.

Norman, a local boy from Pullman, did not want to take accounting courses from his father, who taught accounting at WSU. Instead, because he had always loved family hikes through the wilderness of Moscow Mountain when he was a boy, he decided to major in forestry management.

His freshman year, he found that living on campus at Orton Hall was not conducive to focusing on his studies, and his GPA at the end of spring “wasn’t so good,” as he put it, so he moved back home.

Linda, a third-generation Coug, grew up in a family of educators and engineers (which now extends to five generations of Cougs). Their fondness for telling stories about WSU set the expectation that she would also become a Coug—one she embraced.

“I wanted to go where I felt like I was part of a big family,” Linda said.

Linda was soon involved in pep band, playing clarinet in the opera orchestra, and involved with the Lutheran Campus Ministries.


Thinking much bigger

“It was an exciting time to be in college,” she said. “It was the late sixties—everything from issues about the environment to the Vietnam War were suddenly part of campus life. College, and exploring these things, made us think much bigger than we normally would have.”

While Norman was a junior and Linda a freshman, they both ran for president of the Lutheran Campus Ministries. According to Norman, “Linda brought more than a few friends with her, so she won the vote count.” As a gracious runner-up, Norman was impressed by Linda.

In the days that followed, Norman repeatedly called her dorm (Duncan Dunn), but she was never in—she was always at the library. So he went to the library, introduced himself, and from then on, the two spent hours studying together. His grades suddenly improved.

They had pep band together and loved social dancing—the only class they had together—and the romance bloomed. They soon married.

The Baers moved to Virginia where Norman accepted a graduate fellowship in forestry at Virginia Tech. Linda, a junior, took sociology courses toward her WSU degree. But at the end of the spring semester, he was drafted and reported to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training, while Linda returned to Pullman to take summer courses.

When Norman was transferred to Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos) in Texas, Linda moved to nearby Killeen, where she completed her WSU degree requirements and where they had their first child. After Norman was discharged from service, they pursued graduate degrees at Colorado State—Norman his PhD in forest ecology and Linda her master’s degree in sociology.

“All young couples go through tough times,” Linda said. “But we were lucky—we were able to earn our undergraduate and graduate degrees with zero debt—a far cry from what most young people experience today.”

“Gifts such as the Baers’ help WSU build our commitment to Native American students,” said Higheagle Strong. “We are not only committed to increasing scholarships for our Native students but also in providing cultural programming to support them once they’re here.”

The Baers were pleased to learn that Higheagle Strong and WSU leadership have improved relationships with Tribal nations since becoming a part of a 1998 Memorandum of Understanding with 14 Native nations. As a result, WSU continues to develop programs that better serve the nations’ needs, including more scholarships for Native students.

“I would love to see alumni provide our Native students with more scholarships,” said Norman.

“It’s a great feeling to help these students and others,” said Linda. “It keeps Norm and me dancing.”

To learn more about WSU’s Native American programs, visit

To make a gift to scholarships for Native Americans students contact Rise McGill at the WSU Foundation: 509-335-7456 or