Dr. Aaron Thomas - Director

Dr. Aaron Thomas is currently the Director of Indigenous Research and STEM Education (IRSE) at the University of Montana, in addition to his role as Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

Prior to arriving at the University of Montana in January 2013, Aaron served the University of Idaho as Assistant and Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Director of the Idaho Space Grant Consortium and Idaho NASA EPSCoR Programs.

A member of the Navajo Nation, Aaron earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University (1996) and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Florida (2001).  Dr. Thomas’ research topics include Microfluidics and novel separation processes for gases and biological materials.  He is a recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER and PbioECASE Award given to young faculty in science and engineering.

Dr. Thomas is committed to increasing the number of Native American and Alaska Native students with advanced degrees in STEM fields.  Accordingly, he has constructed a comprehensive service plan that (in the earliest years) promotes exciting STEM education activities in Montana’s reservation middle schools and (later) supports their undergraduate and graduate STEM studies at the University of Montana.

Jon Stannard - Coordinator

Jon Stannard (Blackfeet) enjoyed a rewarding career until his retirement from the University of Montana as the Upward Bound Director in 2012.  Committed to improving higher education access and educational success among Native American students, Upward Bound ideally served his passion.

Bored with idle retirement life, Jon moved into a part-time coordinator position with Indigenous Research and STEM Education. The position renews Jon’s interest in working closely with Native students in an educationally stimulating environment.

Jon completed both a BS (Business Administration) and MBA at the University of Montana prior to enjoying his career with Upward Bound.


Donald Belile

A member of the Oglala Sioux Nation, Don Belile is committed to his studies, wife Tonya, and son Apaullo.  His studies have taken him to the far reaches of the globe.

Don began his college experience at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins, CO and transferred during his freshman year to Oglala Lakota College located in Rapid City, South Dakota.  Majoring in Interdisciplinary Environmental Science, he earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in June 2010 with magna cum laude distinction. 

One of his most rewarding undergraduate experiences was selection to an international team of scientists and students that collected and analyzed data in Outer Mongolia for the purpose of assessing heavy metal contamination from a copper and molybdenum strip mine.

Don also travelled to Chihuahua Mexico in summer 2012.  Placed into a summer internship, Don assessed the socio-economic impact of climate change and water availability by constructing climatic models and natural resource mapping.

Beginning autumn semester 2012, as a Sloan Scholar and IRSE/Institute on Ecosystems Intern, Don enrolled in the Systems Ecology graduate program—a unique program that partners the University of Montana and Montana State University.  His primary research topic addresses environmental factors that have influenced ungulate browsing history on willow in Yellowstone Park’s Lamar Valley.  He anticipates earning a MS Degree in spring 2015.

Don aspires to continue environmental research as a career choice.  Using remote sensing and GIS technologies, he hopes to assist tribes with land management and sustainable development of renewable natural resources.

Roger Mad Plume

Roger Mad Plume is a Blackfeet graduate student with conviction and talent. Upon graduation from Browning High School in 2006, Roger moved to Montana Tech, majored in Mathematics, and followed his sports passion by playing football for the Ore Diggers.

His decision to pursue mathematics was a toss-up between computer science, environmental engineering, or mathematics. He credits his high school AP Calculus instructor with planting the first seeds of interest in mathematics, but he is also quick to point out that the thought of hammering out computer strings in a cubical was far less attractive than teaching and conducting mathematical research. 

Upon completion of his BS Mathematics degree in 2010, Roger returned home to Browning and set to work. Employed by Blackfeet Community College, he instructed math courses, advised the American Indian in Science and Engineering Society (AISES) students, served as the liaison for the tribal college’s All Nations Alliance for Minority Participation Program, directed BCC’s pre-engineering program, and was a member of the faculty senate. The 3 years at BCC were rewarding, but a new yearning for graduate education launched his life’s next chapter.

After applying to mathematics graduate programs across America, four universities surfaced as the best options:UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Montana State University, and the University of Montana. Plotting a list of 20 qualities (pro’s and con’s) for each institution, the University of Montana won out as the best option by a score of 11 pro’s to 9 con’s. Close proximity to family and friends in Browning was the deal breaker.

Roger started his Masters of Mathematics program in Fall 2014 with funding as one of the UM’s select Sloan Scholars and a fellowship from the (MT)2 scholarship program—a National Science Foundation effort dedicated to the premise that building a STEM workforce of professionals who can successfully solve complex problems must include all segments of our population.

Roger expects to graduate in Spring 2016.  Until then, he stays busy with TA duties, research, serving as the UM AISES chapter president, and contributing effort to the UM American Indian Science Scholars student group.  Roger enjoys a happy relationship with his girlfriend and their 3 year old daughter.

Moses Leavens

Moses Leavens, a member of the Chippewa/Cree Nation, is a distinguished graduate student.  Prior to enrolling into graduate studies at the University of Montana fall semester 2013, Moses attended the University of Great Falls.  Earning a dual degree in Mathematics (BS) and Biology (BA), he focused on studies and raising his young daughter.  When asked about any honors he may have earned during his undergraduate years, Moses humbly mentioned that he was one of a few students nationally selected into the Amgen Scholars Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

Upon completion of his undergraduate degrees, Moses applied and was accepted into a cellular and molecular graduate program at St. Louis University.  The distances from home and family led to his return to Montana after one year and enrollment in the University of Montana PhD program in Bio-Chemistry and Bio-Physics.  A Sloan Scholar and an Indigenous Research and STEM Education/Institute on Ecosystems Intern, Moses currently conducts research on Rift Valley Fever virus nucleocapsid formation.

Upon completion of his doctoral degree, Moses aspires to continue research—perhaps addressing public health medicinal topics.

Ranalda Tsosie

Ranalda Tsosie is to be admired for academic tenacity and unselfish commitment to her family and the health and safety of her people.  A member of the Dine’ Nation, Ranalda walks a careful balancing act of mother, wife, graduate student, and researcher.  Raising 5 children in Missoula with her husband Stephen, Ranalda budgets time to support their involvement in sports and school activities--all while conducting her lab research, and keeping up with the non-stop pace of her graduate studies.

At the end of Fall Semester 2015, Ranalda completed a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies and was subsequently admitted to the Individualized Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program.  She commences her doctoral studies Spring Semester 2016.  

A graduate of Dine’ College--a two-year tribal college in Tsaile, Arizona—Ranalda earned an Associate of Science Degree in General Science with Biology and Health Sciences options.  Soon thereafter, she was accepted into The University of New Mexico where she majored in Chemistry and minored in Navajo Language and Linguistics.  Ranalda earned a BS degree and was accepted fall 2013 into the University of Montana’s graduate program in Chemistry.  She hopes to complete an Interdisciplinary Studies PhD in spring 2018.

Her list of awards and recognitions is admirable.  From a cultural perspective, she earned the title of “Miss Northern Navajo”—a title bestowed on Dine’ women who demonstrate cultural knowledge, traditional practice, and language fluency.  On the academic side, Ranalda was a University of New Mexico Diversity Scholar, is currently a UM Sloan Scholar, IRSE/Institute on Ecosystems intern, and a UM teaching assistant.  While attending UNM, she was one of 50 students nationwide that were selected to study one year in Germany as a Congress Bundestag Scholar.

Ranalda’s current research focuses on studying the extent chromate found in drinking water can damage human DNA.  Her hope is to discover a repair mechanism that will reduce damage.

Eventually, she hopes to research the result of years of uranium and heavy metal dumping on the Navajo Reservation and the effect it has had on her people’s health and safety.  It will begin with studying remediation of the heavy metal tailings and the uranium toxicity. 

Once earning her PhD, Ranalda hopes to return home, secure employment in higher education as a researcher or grant writer, and widen the path for Native students to pursue STEM degrees while experiencing meaningful research.