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.
Those are some of the findings from a recent gathering of faculty and program directors affiliated with the soon-to-be completed Pre-Engineering Education Collaboratives (PEEC) program. Working with native-serving colleges in four states–Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii– the initiative supported development of pre-engineering degree programs in reservation communities and established affiliations with mainstream university partners. That goal was to nurture interest in engineering professions, promote academic success within two-year institutions, and encourage the successful transfer of Indian and native Hawaiian students to partnering universities.
Outcomes are still being evaluated, but preliminary findings discussed at the workshop suggest that the program increased interest and access to engineering degree programs. In the process, the program also promoted student success in difficult math and science “gatekeeper” courses, enriched the variety and quality of STEM courses in tribal colleges, and promoted professional collaboration between faculty at tribal, native-serving, and mainstream institutions. Because of PEEC, several reservations now have a small but growing cadre of tribal members with engineering degrees–men and women who are able help guide the development of their communities and serve as role models for the next generation of students.
Detailed findings will be discussed in an upcoming report. Preliminary outcomes are summarized by the various collaboratives in the following PowerPoint presentations: