Field Notes: Native Science Report Blog

Oglala Lakota College Challenges Safety of Uranium Mining in Black Hills

Dr. Hannan LaGarry. Photo Credit: Scott Morgan

Testimony by Dr. Hannan LaGarry spotlights the vital role of research in tribal colleges

A controversial plan to reopen uranium mining in the southern Black Hills was dealt a blow earlier this year when research conducted by Oglala Lakota College faculty member Hannan LaGarry found that operations by Azarga Uranium Corp. risk serious contamination to the region’s water supply.

“In my expert opinion, artesian flow demonstrates a lack of containment at the site and poses a significant risk of unexpected, serious contamination of the Cheyenne River and its tributaries, faults and sinkholes,” said LaGarry, who is co-chair of the college’s Math, Science and Technology Department and a geologist by training.

These findings were based on research conducted by LaGarry and a team of Oglala Lakota College students. Azarga Uranium Corp. sought to keep these research findings from the public. However, The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that the damaging testimony be made public.

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Agreement with NDSU Strengthens Research, Teaching at Sisseton Wahpeton College

Officials from NDSU and Sisseton Wahpeton College recently signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at meeting the needs of American Indian students. Sisseton Wahpeton College President Harvey DuMarce is pictured at the far right.

Officials from NDSU and Sisseton Wahpeton College recently signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at meeting the needs of American Indian students. Sisseton Wahpeton College President Harvey DuMarce is pictured at the far right.

A landmark agreement signed by Sisseton Wahpeton College and North Dakota State University will support the academic needs of Indian students attending both institutions, especially in STEM fields, tribal and state education leaders recently announced.

A memorandum of understanding, signed January 16, provides for more  support services for Sisseton Wahpeton College students who continue their studies at the state university. It will also promote faculty exchange programs, collaborative research, and the development of articulation agreements to assure smooth transfer of credits earned at the tribally controlled college.

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Robots: Not Just For Rich Kids

wiredIllegal immigrants can build robots, too.

That’s the message of Spare Parts: Four undocumented teenagers, one ugly robot, and the battle for the American dream.  This new book by Joshua Davis (FSG Originals, 2014) recounts the work of four high school students who, according to a January 10 story in New Scientist, “live in a run-down suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, with barely a legal immigration document between them.”

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New Funding for Innovative Undergraduate Math Programs

The National Science Foundation is inviting proposals to support innovation in undergraduate math instruction during the first two years of college. According to a recently released Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the goal is to strengthen academic success in core math courses for students interested in pursuing STEM degrees. Projects will be funded as supplements to existing awards. Specifically:

“Researchers are invited to submit supplemental funding requests for existing awards; to use the EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) funding mechanism, which supports exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches; or submit proposals for conferences to support the following types of activities:

  • design and development work to pilot innovations with high impact potential for helping students learn the mathematics generally taught in the first two years of both 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions
  • conferences in 2015 on using research to improve student success in the mathematics generally taught in the first two years in the first two years of college.”

This DCL will be in effect until May 1, 2015. Tribal Colleges and Universities Program Director Dr. Jody Chase emphasized that this DCL represents an opportunity for tribal and native serving colleges, which focus on undergraduate instruction.

For more information see the full text of this Dear Colleague Letter at http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf15026

Outcomes of Pre-Engineering Education Initiative

Dr. Carty Monette speaking to participants of the Pre-Engineering Education Collaboaratives workshop, held December 15-17.

Dr. Carty Monette speaking to participants of the Pre-Engineering Education Collaboaratives workshop, held December 15-17.

Until recently, many American Indians living on the nation’s poorest and most isolated Indian reservations did not know what engineering was or what engineers did. Aside from associations with locomotives, engineering was a mysterious and inaccessible profession.

That is starting to change, however. Thanks to a National Science Foundation-funded initiative, Indians enrolled in tribally controlled colleges, along with native Hawaiian students enrolled in their state’s public community colleges, now have an opportunity to learn about engineering-related professions, earn pre-engineering degrees within their home communities, and seamlessly transfer to schools of engineering in mainstream universities for completion of four-year and graduate degrees.

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2014 PEEC Workshop Agenda

The 2014 Pre-Engineering Education Collaboratives workshop will be held December 16-17 at the Embassy Suites in Minneapolis. The focus of this year’s gathering will be on discussing and documenting outcomes of the NSF-funded effort.  It will be a rich conversation and we are looking forward to your presentations.

The full agenda is available here: 2014 PEEC Workshop agenda

Tribal Colleges as STEM Leaders

Dr. Tim Olson, head of Salish Kootenai College’s information technology department, with the college’s satellite, currently under construction.

Dr. Tim Olson, head of Salish Kootenai College’s information technology department, with the college’s satellite, currently under construction.

Tribal colleges are often viewed as under-resourced institutions that must do more with less; they have smaller campuses, fewer books, less equipment for teaching and learning. This image conforms to a widely held view, often reinforced by those of us who advocate for the movement, that tribal colleges succeed despite their limited funding.

There is truth to this image, at least in the past, and it remains true for some of the newest and smallest colleges that are just beginning to develop their capacity, especially in STEM fields.

But this stereotype can mask the remarkable development of some other colleges.  After spending four days at Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation of western Montana, the main impression offered a visitor is not poverty, but the strength of the institution and the quality of its learning resources.

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New Report Looks to the Future of TCUP

TCUPThe National Science Foundation will continue to support tribal and native-serving colleges, according to leaders within the federal agency. However, colleges that have already received substantial support in the past will be encouraged to pursue new funding opportunities related to documenting the impact of their educational work.

That’s one of the key findings in a newly published report outlining the history, impact, and future of the National Science Foundation’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP). Summarizing two days of presentations and discussions during the 2014 TCUP Leaders’ Forum, held earlier this year in San Antonio, Texas, the12-page publication stressed that the National Science Foundation’s commitment to the tribal colleges remains strong. However, it also noted that colleges must also look beyond capacity building as it pursues funding opportunities.

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