FEATURES

Tribal College STEM Programs Brace for Change Under Trump Administration

by Katie Scarlett Brandt

Dr. Nader Vadiee, Engineering faculty, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

Engineering Professor Nader Vadiee spends his days trying to fix a leaky pipeline. However, this pipeline isn’t leaking water or oil. It’s losing students.

“Imagine a very leaky pipeline from the community to academia, then to industry and back to the community,” said Vadiee, who heads the Engineering Department at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in New Mexico. “My students are single moms or dads, the average age 28 or 29. My mission is to get these professionals back to the community to create jobs.”

Building this pipeline requires funding, a significant portion of which comes from federal sources. For this reason, the election of Donald Trump has many in the tribal college community on edge. That’s because, so far, President Trump’s top priorities include:

What’s less clear: where research and STEM education fit into these goals.

“With the Trump administration and all the scary things we’re looking at with the budget, it’s hard to predict how things are going to pan out,” said Al Kuslikis, senior associate for Strategic Initiatives at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) in Washington DC. “We’re optimistic because of the history of support from both parties, but we understand that there have to be accommodations made in the priorities of this new administration.”

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Digging Deep

Former Salish Kootenai College student Matthew Weingart receives prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for work in paleoecology

By Ryan Winn

Matt Weingart in the lab.

The Flathead Indian Reservation of western Montana has been occupied by Native peoples for millennia. Over the years, its wooden mountains and fertile valleys have both shaped and been shaped by this human presence.

For Matthew Weingart, a member of the Klamath Tribe, this relationship between people and the land represents a research opportunity. Fascinated by the impact of climate, fire, and humans on landscapes over time, Weingart is digging into the soil of the reservation’s Camas Prairie where, he said, “there’s a rich cultural history and human presence” dating back at least 13,000 years.

“It is in a type of forest that is typically not well understood,” he said. “Learning more about these systems can provide useful knowledge to forest and land managers, especially in times of changing environmental conditions.”

Now pursing a master’s degree in environmental science from Montana State University, Weingart’s work in the field of paleoecology has earned him a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award. The prestigious award is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind and, according to the NSF, “has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.” Previous recipients include “numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.”

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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

SEA-PHAGES application deadline is October 31

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is inviting eligible tribal colleges to participate in its SEA-PHAGES program. The application deadline for fall 2018 classes is October 31, 2017.

SEA-PHAGES is an innovative undergraduate curriculum that replaces traditional introductory biology lab courses with a two-semester research-based course focusing on the isolation and analysis of bacteriophages from local soil samples. Over 100 colleges and universities, including four tribal colleges, now offer the SEA-PHAGES program.

Participating institutions receive faculty training, course materials, and an opportunity to participate in an annual SEA Symposium. NSF-TCUP awardee institutions are also eligible for supplemental funding from the NSF for program costs not covered by HHMI.

Program details and application forms are available at www.hhmi.org/SEA. For additional information, contact HHMI at SEA@hhmi.org.

 

Proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline disproportionately affects tribal communities in North Carolina

While the Dakota Access Pipeline continues to generate headlines, a natural gas pipeline under consideration along the eastern seaboard is also coming under scrutiny, in part for its disproportionate impact on Native communities in North Carolina.

First proposed in 2014, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas fracked from Marcellus Shale in central West Virginia to end points in Virginia and the southern border of North Carolina. The project is supported by those who believe it will aid struggling rural economies, but environmental organizations and some landowners argue that it will pose a threat to residents and the region’s ecosystem.

In addition, opponents note that the pipeline, which crosses the territories of four tribes, will disproportionately affect Native American communities in North Carolina.

Ryan Emanuel, an associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, writing in the July 21 edition of Science, argued that the “nearly 30,000 Native Americans who live within 1.6 km of the proposed pipeline make up 13.2% of the impacted population in North Carolina,” even though they make up 1.2 % of the state’s population.

Emanuel argued that a draft environmental impact statement released last December by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to acknowledge the large Native population along the proposed 600-mile route, “leading to false conclusions about the project’s impacts.” He urged federal regulators to consult with tribes before making a final decision, which is expected later this year.