MISSOULA – The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Montana and partner institutions $740,000 to boost the representation of American Indian and Alaska Native students in STEM disciplines and workforce.
Of the total, UM will receive $236,000 to develop Native-based STEM education activities for K-12 and higher education students, as well as become a model for partnering with tribal communities to advance Indigenous-based STEM education across the country, according to Aaron Thomas, a UM associate professor of chemistry and director of Indigenous Research and STEM Education.
Thomas is also the principal investigator of the award and project, Cultivating Indigenous Research Communities for Leadership in Education and STEM Alliance, or CIRCLES. The project will build upon existing partnerships with tribal communities and tribal colleges in six western states, including Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming to increase the engagement, involvement and success of Native and Alaska Native students in STEM.
Thomas said the CIRCLES Alliance reflects the community nature of many Indigenous students to thoughtfully bolster representation in the science, science, technology, engineering and math fields.
“We recognize that a different framework is needed for Native American students, one that recognizes and incorporates the unique traditional knowledge, sense of place, rights of sovereignty and culture of Indigenous peoples,” Thomas said.
Through the CIRCLES Alliance, researchers at the University of Idaho, Central Wyoming College, the University of New Mexico, Black Hills State University, North Dakota State University and UM will build on strong, existing partnerships with tribal communities and colleges to study promising practices and areas of greatest need in STEM education for Native American and Alaskan Native students.
Ultimately, Thomas said, the project aims to support tribal communities in producing a STEM-ready workforce to meet their communities’ unique economic development needs.
“With 10.5% of the nation’s Native American population residing within our project’s six states, we are poised to make meaningful, collective impact across our region while generating results and approaches that can be scaled nationally,” said Thomas.
UM is home to the Indigenous Research and STEM Education Program, which is dedicated to advancement of Native American, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian and First Nation students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics academic disciplines and professions.
Contact: Aaron Thomas, director, Indigenous Research and STEM Education, UM associate professor of chemistry, 406-243-2052, firstname.lastname@example.org.