FEATURES

Engineers Save the Day

A new children’s book series created by students at College of Menominee Nation presents engineers as problem-solving heroes

By Ryan Winn

Simply put, there aren’t enough Native Americans pursuing STEM degrees. As the National Science Foundation reported in its Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 Report, American Indians and Alaska Natives received a mere 0.4% of all master’s degrees in science and engineering between 1985 and 2005. Examining barriers, research has documented a widespread belief among American Indian students, even in the early years of their education, that science, math and engineering fields are difficult, uninteresting, and not relevant to their lives.

Future Engineer in Training Series.

Combating these attitudes, College of Menominee Nation’s STEM HERO Program is making math, science, and engineering meaningful and relevant to Native students by offering hands-on, culturally grounded, and interdisciplinary approaches to STEM education. One of our most recent projects, publication of a children’s book series about engineering, is testament to our success.

Partially funded by the National Science Foundation’s Tribal College and University Program, two fellow faculty members and I created and implemented a model that led our engineering students through the process of book creation and publication. Next, we devised classroom activities utilizing K’NEX toy sets and shared our work with grade school educators and students in our community. We empowered our engineering students to create stimulating tools that inspire young people to engage in STEM. It’s an exciting process we hope to help replicate beyond Northeastern Wisconsin.

Creating Interest in STEM

The genesis for our work began when engineering professor Dr. Lisa Bosman expressed interest in transforming a lecture-based Introduction to Engineering course into a more active learning environment.

“Initially I assigned students present their research about the various engineering fields at each course meeting,” Dr. Bosman said. “I then asked the class to give feedback and pose questions before supplementing and clarifying any areas that needed it. While this was a helpful way to flip the classroom, the presentations revealed that students needed help building their research and communication skills.”

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Learning Biology Through Research

Tribal colleges join an innovative program that makes research the centerpiece of introductory biology courses

By Paul Boyer

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program Officer Dr. Viknesh Sivanathan with student Emily Davis. Through the HHMI program, Davis began studying phages as a freshman at James Madison University and later worked as a lab assistant at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Several tribally controlled colleges will soon begin developing their own SEA-PHAGES programs. Photo courtesy of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Many colleges and universities now promote undergraduate research opportunities, but they are, too often, offered to a select few. While juniors and seniors pursing STEM degrees might, in small numbers, benefit from this enriched form of learning, most students enrolled in lower division science courses still encounter conventional 100-level lecture and lab classes.

Since 2008, however, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, Maryland has pioneered an innovative biology curriculum that makes original research the centerpiece of even introductory biology courses. Called SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science), the curriculum developed by HHMI focuses on the collection, isolation, and analysis of bacteriophages.

Bacteriophages, also called phages, are viruses that infect bacteria. They are abundantly present in the environment, both in soil and water, and are a highly diverse. This makes them an ideal subject for undergraduate research; every phage is a new discovery and its identification is a genuine contribution to the biological sciences.

According to HHMI Program Officer Dr. Viknesh Sivanathan, however, the larger goal of the SEA-PHAGES program is to enrich undergraduate education. Applying research methods to the isolation and analysis of phages allows lower division college students “the opportunity to engage in authentic research early in their academic career,” he said. “Not many students have the opportunity to do so, as most mentored research is typically offered to a small number of students.”

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Student Research

A Comparison of the Antimicrobial Activities of Cultivated Echinacea angustifolia (Purple Coneflower) versus Wild E. angustifolia

Ech2Marlee Finley, Levi Binstock, and Mandy Guinn
Environmental Science Department, United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND 58504

Abstract

Medicinal plants have been have been used for centuries to treat various diseases across the world. While plant extracts have been used to synthesize modern commercial drugs, so far only a small percent of traditionally prescribed plant medicines have been studied for their therapeutic value. In recent years, the American public has become enamored with herbal remedies, yet there continues to be a relative scarcity of scientific research. Echinacea (purple coneflower) has received global attention because of its potential for medicinal value. Extensive laboratory and clinical research on Echinacea angustifolia in the last few years in Germany has confirmed its immunostimulatory, antiviral, and antibacterial benefit to humans. The purpose of this study is to use the agar-well diffusion method to compare antimicrobial activity of cultivated and wild E. angustifolia. We hypothesize that cultivated E. angustifolia will show more antimicrobial activity against five different strains of bacteria (two Gram-negative, three Gram-positive) due to being cultivated under ideal conditions.

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Field Notes: The Native Science Report Blog

Awards for “makers” making a difference

Infosys Foundation USA has launched its second year of the Infy Maker Awards competition to provide $10,000 to adult “makers” who are working on social impact projects. This year’s themes are education, health, environmental sustainability, and combating hunger.

Infosystems Foundation USA is a non-profit organization working to “expand professional development in computer science, coding, and making, especially for educators teaching in historically under-represented schools and communities,“ according to its website.

Applicants are asked to upload a photo and 90 second video and “answer several questions about your project and the problem you’re trying to solve.”

And what, exactly, is a “maker”? Adweek offers this quick definition:

“A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers.”

If that sounds like you or someone you know, the deadline for applying is Feb. 28, 2017.

For more information visit www.infymakers.com

I’m curious: Does this movement resonate in native communities, tribal colleges, and minority-serving colleges? Are there any students or instructors who consider themselves “makers”? Let us know.

New program solicitation announced for NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program

The National Science Foundation has issued a new program solicitation for its Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER), which provides support to “early-career” faculty who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the solicitation synopsis.

“Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research,” according to the synopsis. “NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.”

The solicitation also includes a description of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

The new CAREER program solicitation (NSF 17-537) can be accessed at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/nsf17537/nsf17537.htm