GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 146-6
Presentation Time: 2:55 PM


SMITH, Kent S.1, BROWNE, Ian D.1 and CZAPLEWSKI, Nicholas J.2, (1)Dept. of Anatomy and Cell Biology, OSU - Center for Health Sciences, 1111 W 17th St,, Tulsa, OK 74107, (2)Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, 2401 Chautauqua Av, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73072

The diverse experiences and cultural viewpoints underrepresented minorities (URM) bring to STEM represent a largely untapped resource to develop creative solutions to critical problems in the natural world. The recruitment and retention of URMs in the sciences continues to plague the nation’s academic community and STEM workforce. A significant barrier to developing a diverse STEM workforce is the relative scarcity of professionals of color who are available to serve as mentors. Native Explorers (NE) is a unique program at Oklahoma State University helping to address the lack of American Indians (AI) in the STEM workforce through partnerships with tribal nations, federal agencies, museums, and universities. NE provides basic STEM research opportunities for college-age AI students from many sovereign nations, ethnicities, and rural-urban backgrounds. The field-based program helps these students envision their place in the natural world as they learn about deep time, field geology, evolution, biodiversity, human resilience, and environmental sustainability. A strong cultural focus helps participants validate their own identities as AIs, personal histories, and traditional knowledge, and to visualize how these represent significant strengths that can be used to help society. Participants have stated their shared field experiences have opened new stores of creative energy and ignited previously unrealized passions, with most describing the experience as “life-changing.” NE helps these students develop strong peer networks and cultivate relationships with individuals from partner organizations, opening doors to opportunities they may have considered beyond their reach.

The NE team consists of Native and non-Native STEM researchers and educators, public school administrators, and tribal education advocates, committed to recruiting and training the next generation of AI STEM researchers and educators. By addressing the specific needs of AIs, NE provides an important model for promoting the success of AIs in STEM fields. Past participants are pursuing STEM degrees and careers across the United States. These young AI scientists are having positive impacts on communities throughout the Indian Country and beyond and will light the trail as mentors for the generations who follow.