In September in Arlington, VA, tribal college presidents and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty members gathered with the National Science Foundation for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s STEM Leaders Forum.
Having already witnessed some of the research students are doing at tribal colleges, it was exciting for me to take this peek behind the scenes and meet some of the faculty members who work to offer students the very best STEM programs they can.
I learned that challenges come in many forms—funding, the remoteness of tribal colleges, infrastructure, and students’ lack of preparedness in fields such as mathematics as they enter college—and they are not always easy to confront. But the STEM Leaders Forum also revealed how readily tribal college faculty members put their hearts into their work— work that demands long hours, the ability to balance research and teaching, and as Chief Dull Knife College’s Bob Madsen explained it, a willingness to don many different hats.
The meeting also offered a glimpse of how tribal college presidents and faculty support the dreams of their students. Those dreams are of graduation and individual successes, but they are also tied to the success of their families and communities. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, tribal colleges are making great strides in encouraging Native students to study in the STEM fields.
Consider what is happening at Navajo Technical College (NTC, Crownpoint, NM). According to NTC Dean of Instruction Tom Davis, there are more than 400 students currently studying in STEM fields at NTC. That’s a more than 700% increase in the past few years alone.
As NTC President Elmer Guy has pointed out, technology can promote economic development in Native communities and give students the tools they need to start their own businesses. Indeed, one need only look to Crownpoint, NM, to see the technological changes that NTC has brought to the Navajo Reservation. Through the Internet to the Hogan Project, NTC has opened broadband Internet access to many community members. And recently, culinary arts, construction, and renewable energy students collaborated to design and build solar ovens. After the culinary students won a gold medal in a national competition, they came home to share the affordable design with chapter houses and Navajos lacking access to electricity. These are but two projects happening in New Mexico that benefit students and the community.
Successes similar to NTC’s are happening throughout the tribal college movement. At the College of Menominee Nation (CMN, Keshena, WI), for instance, language instructor John Teller is working with elders and students to preserve the Menominee language using technology. As freelance journalist Sherrole Benton shares with us in this issue of TCJ, on-campus and online students have access to audio recordings, audio/visual recordings, training videos, and lesson plans. Not only that, but instructors are developing new methods and curriculum to teach students using computers, iPads, iPods, movies, social media, and cutting-edge language software.
At Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation, Jurgita Antoine writes of how the Lakota Documentaries project carries on the work of the late Don Moccasin, who started the language project in 2000. Moccasin video-recorded hundreds of hours of Sicangu Lakota elders sharing their stories. Today, translators carry on his work by transcribing and translating tapes.
In this issue, Mary Annette Pember also shares news of an interactive website created through a collaboration among American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), Indiana University, the Autry Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the web portal allows users to view—and comment on—the photos and descriptions of more than 70,000 cultural artifacts from the museums.
Technology has changed the ways in which we work and live, even how we communicate with one another. Quite honestly, I oftentimes wonder how well those changes are truly serving humanity and the planet. Attending the STEM Leaders Forum and reading the stories TCJ’s writers share in this issue reassured me that technology is an important tool in preserving, restoring, and protecting culture. STEM students at tribal colleges nationwide are engaged in scientific research that benefits their homelands; restores their Native languages; and connects them in new ways with their elders, families, and tribal communities.
In recent months, staff members at TCJ have had the opportunity to visit with many friends and colleagues at the STEM Leaders Forum, the AIHEC board meeting, and the National Indian Education Association annual conference. We appreciate the friendships we share with so many of our readers and contributors, and are grateful for the input provided by the TCJ Advisory Board, tribal college presidents, and AIHEC staff in helping us select the upcoming themes of TCJ. (Those are listed with our Writers’ Guidelines online at www.pixelright2.com/new-tcj.)
In the coming years, TCJ staff will miss retiring Fort Peck Community College President Dr. James Shanley, who has always been a friend to the Tribal College Journal. We appreciate all he has done for the magazine and its staff—and we wish him all the best in the coming years. To read about his pathway and contributions to the tribal college movement, see Paul Boyer’s profile of him, beginning on page 34.
We would also like to congratulate Dr. Dan King, president of Red Lake Nation College (RLNC), and everyone at the tribal college in Red Lake, MN. This fall, the board voted to accept RLNC as an associate member making it the 38th member of AIHEC.
AIHEC’s five-phase membership process ensures that all member tribal colleges meet the highest standards of excellence. That, in turn, ensures not only the success of each individual institution and its students but also the well-being of the entire tribal college movement. Indeed, RLNC’s own motto, Ji-Mino-Bimaadiziwan (Ojibwe for “The Good Life for Us All”) speaks well to that idea. AIHEC’s members work together to provide the highest quality education for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
As this issue goes to press, I’d like to extend my gratitude toward all our writers, contributors, and photographers— especially the American Indian College Fund’s Jaime Aguilar, whose images appear regularly in TCJ—and hope that readers will share their stories with us, too, by sending a letter to email@example.com/new-tcj.
Laura Paskus is the managing editor of Tribal College Journal.