Building Partnerships in STEM Education

A new video produced by Native Science Report shows how tribal and Native-serving colleges built new programs in engineering and the geosciences by working together and partnering with mainstream universities.

By Paul Boyer

One of Native Science Report’s goals is to show how tribally controlled and Native-serving colleges are doing far more work in STEM research and education than most people realize. We are very excited to expand our ability to tell this story with release of our first video, Building Partnerships in STEM Education.

This Native Science Report original production explores how these colleges, many located in some of the nation’s poorest reservations, successfully developed new programs in pre-engineering and the geosciences by working together and partnering with mainstream universities. These partnerships allowed the colleges to share resources and build pathways for Native students into four-year and graduate degree programs.

Both programs were developed with support from the National Science Foundation’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP), which was established in 2001 to help these under-resourced institutions develop new STEM degrees and provide opportunities for research.

The need for these programs was evident. In 2006, only 353 of the 68,000 engineering degrees awarded at four-year institutions went to American Indian students. The reasons for this were varied, including both a lack of educators and a lack of financial resources in Indigenous communities.

To address these challenges, TCUP, working with the NSF’s Directorate for Engineering, created the Pre-Engineering Education Collaboratives (PEEC). A separate initiative, Partnerships for Geoscience Education (PAGE), was devised to increase the number of Native American students pursuing degrees in geosciences.

PEEC and PAGE partnered tribal colleges and universities in Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin with four-year universities in their state. The partnerships, led by the tribal institutions, provided each with the resources needed to expand their STEM curriculum and support students as they transitioned from a two-year program to four-year programs and beyond. PEEC and PAGE also highlighted to students the knowledge they could bring back to their communities with their degrees, including building affordable homes, providing clean water, repairing infrastructure, creating jobs, and preventing detrimental environmental impact to their homelands.

As a result of the PEEC and PAGE programs, all tribal and Native-serving colleges involved were able to offer full pre-engineering and/or geoscience degree programs and enroll students in these programs. They also developed clear pathways to help students transfer to four-year programs and showed overall improvement in the quality and variety of support services offered to Native students enrolled in their institutions.

Production of the video was supported by generous funding from the National Science Foundation. Written and directed by Paul Feldman of Wellspring Media Works and filmed on locations ranging from Hawaii to South Dakota, the video focuses on lessons learned and offers advice for other institutions hoping to build partnerships with tribal and Native-serving institutions.

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