When it comes to education, not many Mille Lacs Band members are more experienced or more committed than Joycelyn (Joyce) Shingobe, the new (and former) Commissioner of Education.
“I have a long history on the reservation, and I’ve seen all the changes we’ve gone through, the ups and downs,” said Joyce. “I think education is the way forward. I really do.”
In February, Joyce was sworn in to serve as interim commissioner, but after considering other applicants, the Band Assembly and Chief Executive agreed that they wanted Joyce to stay on.
Joyce had been ready to pass the torch to a younger commissioner, but her commitment to education led her to accept. “I wanted to make sure Band members seeking out educational opportunities are supported,” said Joyce.
It made a lot of sense, given Joyce’s experience. She has served two terms as Commissioner of Education, she has been Executive Director of Education for the last six years, and she has held several positions at Nay Ah Shing Schools.
For Joyce, education has always been central, since she started working as a Head Start teacher right out of high school. She took her first college classes at Brainerd (now Central Lakes) Community College, and after taking time off to raise her kids, she also earned a technical college degree in accounting. (Joyce and her uncle, Andy Mitchell, decided to attend tech school together.)
Prior to working in the Education Department, Joyce spent 20 years at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, starting out as a clerk and an interpreter and eventually becoming site manager. She served as liaison between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs community and was instrumental in creating the exhibits that still draw visitors today.
While she was working at the museum, Joyce heard about a bachelor’s program at Metro State that catered to working adults, so she completed her degree in Indian studies.
Joyce enjoyed the museum, but after she earned her bachelor’s, she had a desire to help her community by working for the Band.
Her education didn’t stop there, though. As she taught at Nay Ah Shing, she took graduate classes in education at St. Mary’s, and after becoming Commissioner of Education she completed UMD’s Master of Tribal Administration and Government Degree, along with her daughter LeAnn.
“Once you know what education can do for you and how it can help you move your life forward, you get the bug,” said Joyce.
Joyce gives Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin credit for stressing the importance of education and providing support to students, and she looks forward to working with Melanie as commissioner again, as well as with Secretary-Treasurer Sheldon Boyd, who was Commissioner of Administration when Joyce first served as Commissioner of Education.
As a lifelong student, Joyce knows the importance of higher education, but as a mom and grandma, she also emphasizes preschool, K-12, and after-school programs. “Our children are going to be our future leaders, and we need to build their character and instill a sense of pride and community responsibility,” she said.
Joyce has seen the high quality of education Nay Ah Shing schools provided to her children, but she also sees the importance of public schools for many Band members and their families. She will be a supportive commissioner for students and families whether they attend tribal or public schools.
Most of all, Joyce just wants to help her fellow Band members to see the importance of education and receive the support they need as the move through life.
“I love my job,” said Joyce. “Everybody I’ve ever worked with, I encourage them to stay in school and come back and help their people. I just love to see Band members succeed!”
You can find Joyce at her office in the District I Community Center or out and about in the communities.
Photo: Joycelyn Shingobe, third from left, was sworn in as interim Commissioner of Education in February and as permanent Commissioner in April. She is pictured with Secretary-Treasurer Sheldon Boyd, Justice Ramona Applegate, and Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin.