Utah State University joins eight schools in Idaho, Montana and Kansas to form a regional network aimed at increasing the number of Native American students entering and completing master’s and doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Funded by a five-year, $750,000 National Science Foundation Infrastructure Improvement grant, the program, known as the Indigenous STEM Research and Graduate Education program or “ISTEM,” is led by USU alum Ed Galindo, associate director of the Idaho Space Grant at the University of Idaho and director of the non-profit Native American Research and Education Foundation.
“American Indians have always had an awareness of STEM, yet only 0.3 percent of engineers in the United States are Native American,” says Galindo, who earned a doctorate in education from USU in 2003. “We need to build a different paradigm of educating Native scholars, including providing more Native faculty members in universities and tribal colleges, as well as addressing challenges that prevent students from pursuing higher education.”
ISTEM, which, in addition to USU and UI, includes Idaho State University, Boise State University, the College of Southern Idaho, North Idaho College, Salish Kootenai College, Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Montana, will foster efforts with native communities and a national American Indian advisory board to plan ways to recruit and retain Native American students.
“The program will pioneer creative ways to reduce barriers to success for students working to obtain graduate degrees in STEM fields,” says Nancy Huntly, director of the USU Ecology Center and professor in USU’s Department of Biology, who serves as the USU liaison to the ISTEM Regional Native Network.
Participation in ISTEM offers opportunities for USU students to benefit from a regional network of students and faculty who will share experiences, expertise, research and training programs, Huntly says.
In August 2013, USU also initiated a local chapter of SACNAS — Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science — that complements ISTEM efforts. The student-led chapter is active in research and outreach, including coordination of learning activities for USU’s Science Unwrapped public outreach program.
“These networks allow USU students to share ideas and be part of an extended community of mentors,” says Huntly, who is among supporters of the USU SACNAS chapter and also serves as Science Unwrapped chair.
As part of the NSF grant requirements, the ISTEM researchers will assess efforts during the grant’s five-year span and recommend future efforts.
“We plan to expand the program to more states and institutions,” Galindo says.
Prior to joining UI’s faculty, Galindo, who attended USU as a NASA Space Grant fellow, served as a science teacher for the Shoshone-Bannock Junior and Senior High School on Idaho’s Fort Hall Reservation. Working with USU’s Get Away Special student space research team and Department of Physics, he led Shoshone-Bannock students in preparing the first Native American science experiment in space. The experiment, dubiously dubbed “Fun with Urine,” was an innovative project demonstrating use of zeolite stone to purify urine into recyclable water (technology that may be crucial to future long-duration space exploration) that flew aboard space shuttle Discovery in June 1998.
“USU has provided me with many funding opportunities, but more importantly, friendship and excitement for learning,” Galindo says. “ISTEM will continue this to strengthen this bond.”
Contact: Nancy Huntly, 435-797-2555, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, email@example.com