Field Notes: Native Science Report Blog

EPA Lab Stops Testing Groundwater Samples

Kerry Hartman presents fracking information during forum discussion.

Kerry Hartman presents fracking information during forum discussion.

Thanks to fracking, North Dakota is now the second largest oil producer in the nation. Drilling and maintaining its roughly 8,000 wells has brought revenue and low unemployment rates to the state. At the same time, some residents worry that it is damaging the environment and contaminating water supplies, threating the health of residents.

In this high stakes debate there is an obvious need for reliable information on the risks of fracking. Yet surprising little independent research is conducted and—some argue—findings damaging to the oil industry are not being released.

In North Dakota, Dr. Kerry Hartman, professor of environmental science at Fort Berthold Community College, is one of the few scientists not affiliated with the oil industry or federal government to examine the impact of fracking in the region.

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Northwest Indian College’s “Space Program”

Are robots now passe? The coming thing in undergraduate STEM research just might be rockets–including rockets that break the sound barrier. According to a feature recently aired on the NPR program Here and Now, faculty and students at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Washington are leading the way.

It all started with a project to build low tech and low altitude pop bottle rockets, but jokes about the college’s “space program” inspired computer science teacher Gary Brandt to take the project to the next level. He bought a few small solid fuel rockets.

Their work caught the attention of NASA, which provided a bit of money and allowed the college to build bigger rockets and enter some competitions. One of their creations even broke the sound barrier.

The full Here and Now story, with photos, can be found here:

http://kuow.org/post/why-nasa-called-northwest-indian-college-space-center

Integrating the Liberal Arts Into Engineering Education

The Blackstone River today. Students were asked to invent ways to clean this once polluted river using nineteenth century technology.

The Blackstone River today. Students were asked to invent ways to clean this once polluted river using nineteenth century technology.

The liberal arts should be an integral part of engineering education, according to Loni M. Bordoloi, program director at the Teagle Foundation, and James J. Winebrake, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, they describe several innovative programs that are bringing these two distinct worlds together:

  • A civil-engineering course at Worcester Polytechnic Institute challenges students to invent ways to clean up the Blackstone River, which was highly polluted in the late nineteenth century, by using technology available in that era.
  • At Lawrence Technological University, meanwhile, students read several classics of western literature, such as The Odyssey and Brave New World and examine each from a technological perspective. The goal, state the authors, is to ” explore the way ethnically, geographically, or historically diverse cultures perceive both the benefits and the dangers of technological progress.”

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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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