Northern Michigan University has received nearly $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to launch a two-year pilot project designed to increase the number of American Indian and Alaska Native female college graduates, particularly in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The project will also address the “lack of American Indian teaching methods within the sciences education curricula.”
Thirty-seven projects nationwide received the first awards presented through NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science). NMU’s Center for Native American Studies and its Office of Diversity and Inclusion will implement the pilot program titled “Indigenous Women Working within the Sciences.”
The NMU grant will be used to provide the following: training for K-16 STEM educators on American inclusive methods and materials; college preparation opportunities that will allow American Indian and Alaska Native [AIAN] high school students to expand their experience with inclusive STEM practices; and educational mentors, primarily from the sciences, for AIAN female students as they transition from high school to college.
“By introducing American Indian methods and materials to K-16 STEM educators, we will be inviting them to teach beyond the conventional academic box,” said April Lindala, director of NMU’s Center for Native American Studies. “This will benefit all students by fostering a deeper appreciation for American Indian culture, as well as positively impacting the number of AIAN students enrolling in STEM fields at the post-secondary level. Increasing diversity in the STEM fields can lead to diversity of thought, skillsets, practices and language. It can also lead to broader research questions, expansive research practices and wider possibilities for innovative discoveries and inventions.
“We are very grateful that the NSF acknowledges the value of our ideas, has confidence in our capabilities and is willing to invest in our team for this pilot project. We are also grateful to the numerous NMU faculty and staff, school representatives, tribal and community partners that supported us as we put this proposal together.”
Lindala said she began thinking about disparities in the numbers of American Indian students in the STEM fields over spring break earlier this year. She and five NMU students spent the week traveling to U.P. high schools promoting the new Native American studies academic major—the only bachelor’s degree program in Michigan.
“One of the Anishinaabe female college student presenters, Daabii Reinhardt, repeatedly mentioned how lonely it was for her being the only Native female student in the area of physics,” Lindala said. “She also said her Anishinaabe cultural context combined with the discipline of Native American Studies helped her to think about and reimagine physics in different and exciting ways. Daabii was encouraging these high school students to follow in her footsteps. Hearing that message over and over helped lead to the idea for our proposal. Professor Martin Reinhardt and Jessica Cruz, NMU’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, joined me as part of the core team that developed it.”
According to a press release, NSF INCLUDES aims to improve access to STEM education and career pathways at the national scale, making them more widely inclusive to underserved populations. Over the next decade, NSF will expand the program, with the goal of developing a science and engineering workforce that better reflects the diversity of U.S. society.
The initial recipients comprise 37 design and development launch projects “with the potential to deliver prototypes for bold, new models that broaden participation in STEM.” They also include 11 grants for conferences that will explore the development of backbone organizations to support a national network of NSF INCLUDES alliances and partnerships.
"For more than six decades, NSF has funded the development of STEM talent, with the goals of furthering scientific discovery and ensuring the nation's security, economy and ability to innovate,” said NSF Director France Córdova in a press release. "I'm gratified to see such a strong start to the [NSF INCLUDES] program, which we hope will be an enduring investment in our nation's future in scientific discovery and technological innovation."