Working together, students and faculty are finding, and removing, barriers to enrollment and retention in STEM programs
By Lisa B. Bosman
Prof. Kelli Chelberg (right) with student Deb McPherson.
The College of Menominee Nation (CMN) is an accredited, baccalaureate-level tribal college with a main campus on the Menominee Indian reservation and urban campus in metropolitan Green Bay, Wisconsin. Like many other educational institutions, CMN struggles with recruitment, retention, and persistence of students enrolled in its STEM programs.
By Shadin Pete
One of the most prestigious awards available to students pursuing STEM degrees is the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. This highly competitive program, the oldest of its kind, provides three years of financial support to graduate students who “can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.” Past recipients include Nobel laureates, cabinet secretaries, and noted authors.
Tim Grosser ends a decade of service to tribal colleges
By Katie Scarlett Brandt
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana in the early 1990s, Tim Grosser learned key lessons that would follow him throughout his career: how to do without and how to rely on others. Those lessons came to life most starkly when a combination of malaria and dysentery ate away at Grosser’s 5 foot 10 inch frame, whittling him down to 125 pounds. With nothing but the people directly around him, he had to rely on them to carry him to the hospital, where Grosser was certain he would die.
Innovative two-year program, developed with support from mainstream universities, builds research skills and prepares graduates for a wide range of “people” professions.
By Paul Boyer
While all tribal colleges are looking for ways to expand their STEM degree programs, offerings in the social and behavioral sciences sometimes lag behind. According to Scott Morgan, director of institutional development at Sisseton Wahpeton College located on the Lake Traverse Reservation of South Dakota, this is a missed opportunity.
“On our reservation, social service-type jobs are one of the primary sectors where people are needed,” said Morgan. This is true even when compared to the technology and the hard sciences. “If you look across the board at STEM, there are more jobs that relate to behavioral sciences than any other area.”
In response, Sisseton Wahpeton College is now offering a new two-year behavioral sciences degree. Developed with support from the National Science Foundation and in partnership with North Dakota State University and South Dakota State University, it is one of the first behavioral science degrees offered by a tribally controlled college and it is the first developed with support from the NSF.
By Katie Scarlett Brandt
Tribal colleges often collaborate with mainstream universities on research. So do historically black colleges. But why don’t different minority-serving institutions collaborate with each other?
That simple question led to a unique opportunity for a group of undergraduate students from four HBCUs and one tribally controlled college to take part in a 10-week research project this past summer at a school other than their own. Each student spent from May to July at their choice school, conducting research and meeting weekly with a mentor.
The National Science Foundation funded the project through a program called NSF INCLUDES—an initiative to enhance U.S. leadership in science and engineering by developing STEM talent from all societal sectors. The Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network took the lead on the program as part of an effort to wipe out disparities between under-represented groups in STEM education.
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.”
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.”
Students and staff at Sisseton Wahpeton College in South Dakota have re-seeded 100 acres of farmland, restoring a lost prairie.
By Katie Scarlett Brandt
A sea of green grasses swayed across the northern plains 200 years ago. They created a dry, land-locked ocean, filled with bison instead of whales, birds in place of fish.
With European settlement, much of North America’s grasslands were lost by the middle of the twentieth century, largely due to extensive farming. Of the more than 170 million acres of tallgrass prairie that once covered the plains, less than 4 percent remains, according to the National Park Service.
However, Sisseton Wahpeton College in Sisseton, South Dakota is working to bring it back. The tribal college, located in northeastern South Dakota, seeded a 100-acre parcel located behind college’s rural campus in 2009, converting it from farmland after two years of planning. Eight years later, college employees and students work together to eliminate non-native species and restore the prairie grasses, flowers, and shrubs that once occupied the area.