STEM Equity

Project Aims to Increase STEM Access for Native American Students

Native Americans make up 1.2 percent of the overall U.S. population, yet only account for just 0.4 percent of all engineering bachelor's degrees, Sandia National Laboratories reports. The University of Montana is looking to remedy that situation with the help of a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The funds will be used to launch a pilot project to encourage American Indian participation in STEM fields. The American Indian Traditional Science Experience (AITSE) will be based at the Flathead Indian Reservation.

"Native American and Alaska Native students are the least represented minority population in the STEM disciplines," said associate professor of chemistry and director of UM's Native American Research Laboratory Aaron Thomas in announcing the grant. "Native people offer a unique perspective in these fields that will help bring innovative ideas in a diversified workforce. Our focus is to work with middle school students to help create pathways into STEM that will continue through high school and then on to higher education."

The project aims to combine after-school, hands-on learning opportunities and long-term educational programming, to generate better cultural awareness around the STEM fields. Planners say they intend to build the program around experiential, culturally relevant learning.

The UM grant award is one of 27 awarded nationally as part of an NSF program designed to reach underrepresented learners, known as Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Under-represented Discoverers in Engineering and Science, or INCLUDES.

"NSF INCLUDES breaks new ground by providing a sustained commitment to collaborative change with the goal of bringing STEM opportunities to more people and communities across the country," said NSF Director France Córdova in a news release announcing the grants.

Planners of the Montana pilot say their long-range plan is to eventually expand the project across seven Montana reservations.

About the Author

Based in Annapolis, MD, Adam Stone writes on education technology, government and military topics.