Author Archives: Paul Boyer

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.”

Continue reading

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

Funding for Alaska Native- and Native Hawaiian-Serving Colleges and Universities announced by USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced $3 million in available funding to support Alaska Native- and Native Hawaiian-Serving (ANNH) colleges and universities.

According to a USDA press release, NIFA’s ANNH Education Grants Program addresses educational needs in the food, agricultural and natural resource systems of the United States. Priority is given to those projects that enhance educational equity for underrepresented students and maximize the development and use of resources to improve food and agricultural sciences teaching programs.

The application deadline is March 21, 2017.

For more information: https://nifa.usda.gov/funding-opportunity/alaska-native-serving-and-native-hawaiian-serving-institutions-education

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.”

Continue reading

Conducting Fieldwork in the Shadow of DAPL

Sitting Bull College’s Linda Black Elk leads an environmental impact study on plants at Standing Rock, and works to decolonize medicine through Medic and Healer Council.

By Katie Scarlett Brandt

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction in Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADakota_Access_Pipe_Line%2C_Central_Iowa.jpg

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction in Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADakota_Access_Pipe_Line%2C_Central_Iowa.jpg

Sitting Bull College instructor Linda Black Elk isn’t the easiest person to get a hold of—and with good reason. As an ethnobotanist who studies the way people use plants for food and medicine, her research interests have led her to become actively involved in the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline opposition movement at Standing Rock.

Black Elk now spends much of her time out of the classroom, traveling between two protest sites–Sacred Stone Camp and the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Both are within a few miles of Sitting Bull College on Standing Rock Reservation, and Black Elk has two active research projects unfolding there.

“I want to show the wider public that this isn’t just about water. Water is the foundation of life, but more than water will be impacted by this pipeline,” she says.

The projects grew out of a conversation Black Elk had back in April. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who lives on Standing Rock Reservation, told Black Elk that a construction company was planning to run a pipeline through the area near Allard’s land and under the Missouri River.

“She knew that I gathered food and medicine right in the path of the pipeline,” Black Elk says. “When I found out the buffaloberry was going to be gone, I said we have to do something.”

Continue reading

National Science Foundation Announces New TCUP Funding Opportunities

Guidelines for funding through the National Science Foundation’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP) have been released, effective for all proposals submitted after January 25, 2016.

According to NSF guidelines, TCUP awards are made to “Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native-serving institutions, and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions to promote high quality science (including sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, statistics, and other social and behavioral sciences as well as natural sciences and education disciplines), technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, research, and outreach.”

Continue reading

EPSCoR Research Fellows Program

The National Science Foundation is currently accepting proposals for funding through the EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track 4: Research Fellows Program.

RII Track-4 “provides opportunities for non-tenured investigators to further develop their individual research potential through extended collaborative visits to the nation’s premier private, governmental, or academic research centers,” according to the solicitation.

Research fellows are expected to “learn new techniques, benefit from access to unique equipment and facilities, and shift their research toward transformative new directions.”

Awards may not exceed $300,000 over a two-year period. The deadline for submission of the full proposal is February 28, 2017.

For more information: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/nsf17509/nsf17509.htm

Student Research Featured in NSF Publication

By looking for signs of life in silt samples, including fly larvae, NSF-supported researchers at Aaniiih Nakoda College can gauge the health of a stream that flows into the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. Runoff from a gold mine left the stream polluted with heavy metals. Credit: Rob Margetta, NSF

By looking for signs of life in silt samples, including fly larvae, NSF-supported researchers at Aaniiih Nakoda College can gauge the health of a stream that flows into the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. Runoff from a gold mine left the stream polluted with heavy metals.
Credit: Rob Margetta, NSF

Undergraduate research projects at two tribal colleges are currently featured in Discoveries, the National Science Foundation’s news outlet, which spotlights exemplary programs funded by the federal agency.

Continue reading