Field Notes: Native Science Report Blog

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.

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United Tribes Technical College named a “Tree Campus USA”

TreeCampus

United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota is the first tribal college in the country to be a “Tree Campus USA” site. The designation came May 6 from three of the nation’s major tree planting organizations involved with the program: the Arbor Day Foundation of Nebraska, the USDA Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters.

“United Tribes really stands out,” said State Forester Larry Kotchman of the North Dakota Forest Service. “The community forest you’ve established on the campus…is a perfect backdrop to highlight educational opportunities here, and they really contribute to a better quality of life for all who live and learn and visit here.”

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NSF Featured in New Book About History of Tribal Colleges

Capturing Education (actual size)

As the nation’s oldest tribally controlled colleges and universities prepare to celebrate their fiftieth anniversaries, a new book recalls the challenges faced by those who founded some of the first colleges located on reservations in the 1960s and 1970s. Capturing Education: Envisioning and Building the First Tribal Colleges, written by Paul Boyer and published by Salish Kootenai College Press, documents how early leaders faced opponents who believed Indians did not need a college education or were incapable of running their own institutions.

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NSF Symposium Highlights Student Research

Jeremy Guinn, United Tribes Technical College

Jeremy Guinn, United Tribes Technical College

Bats eat bugs harmful to agriculture, ornate box turtles prefer habitats with sandy soil, and eight hundred year old seeds found inside a clay ball can be coaxed into growing an enormous squash unknown to modern agriculture.

These are three of the findings reported at the second tribal college research symposium, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and held at the agency’s Alexandria, Virginia offices on August 17-18.

Intended to spotlight the quality and variety of research conducted by undergraduate students within Indian and native-serving colleges nationwide, it featured presentations by eighteen students and faculty from over a half dozen institutions.

The gathering also featured a poster session and talks by representatives of several federal agencies, including the National Forest Service and the Animal and Plant Inspection Service, about career opportunities in STEM fields.

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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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