MISSOULA – University of Montana graduate student Sierra Paske is studying some pretty serious chemistry these days. Consider the topic of her Ph.D. dissertation research.
“Chiral separation of enantiomer in capillary electrophoresis using a chiral pseudostationary phase,” she said with a smile borne from the quizzical looks she often gets when talking about her work. “It’s developing materials used to improve pharmaceutical analysis and development.”
Paske, a member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux tribe and native of Rochester, Minnesota, is in the second year of her graduate studies.
As vice president of the Kyiyo Native American Student Association, she will play a pivotal role at this weekend’s Kyiyo Pow Wow, registering dancers and tabulating scores. Since its founding 53 years ago, UM’s powwow has grown into one the largest and oldest student-sponsored such events in the country and attracts attendants from across the nation.
“We’ll have some 500 dancers and 50 drummers this weekend. It takes a lot of organization from our students,” said Gisele Forrest, an administrator in UM’s Native American Studies program and a co-adviser for Kyiyo. “Sierra is amazing in that she volunteers many hours for Kyiyo, while also doing her grad studies and running her lab. We are so lucky to have her.”
Paske enrolled at UM after earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, Morris, in forensic science with an emphasis on chemistry and Native studies.
“I developed an interest in forensics in high school – the merging of science and criminality,” said the ardent fan of “CSI.” “You can’t solve a crime just by looking at it.”
While her interest in forensics hasn’t waned, Paske opted to focus on chemistry for her graduate studies. She chose UM because the Department of Chemistry provides one-on-one attention to students, and the campus has an active group of Native American students.
“I wanted that community,” said Paske, who helped organize Native student activities at UM, Morris and participated in powwows as a child. “I’ve always wanted to learn more about myself and where I come from.”
Her time at UM, she adds, has also introduced her to other tribes.
“I didn’t know very much about the Crow, especially their style of dance,” Paske said. “Also, the Blackfeet. I love their language.”
Paske’s adviser, chemistry Professor Chris Palmer, said her ability to analyze problems and work to solve them makes her an excellent graduate student. It’s also a skill set she brings to students in her work as a teaching assistant.
“Sierra is patient and understanding with students and explains things so they understand it,” Palmer said, adding that as a Native, she serves as an important role model.
“Being a teaching assistant takes a lot of time, but I love it,” Paske said.
Explaining the specifics of her research, though, remains a challenge. Even to her family, she admits.
“They are very supportive of what I am doing,” Paske said. “But they don’t always understand it.”
The 53rd Annual Kyiyo Pow Wow will be held in UM’s Adams Center. Grand Entry will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, April 22, and noon and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 23.
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, email@example.com.