Katherine Crocker, a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, was selected as one of 30 students nationwide to participate in a pilot program of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

A $1.5 million grant to AISES from the National Science Foundation seeks to increase the number of American Indians who persist in higher education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and careers related to STEM. The grant is titled “Lighting the Pathway to Faculty Careers for Natives in STEM.” The long-term goal of the project is to increase the number of members who pursue faculty positions in STEM disciplines at United States colleges and universities.

Crocker is a member of the Kaw Nation, also known as the Kanza tribe. “My great-grandfather was the last native speaker of our language,” she said. The Kaw Nation is in present day Kansas and Oklahoma.

“I knew it would be a very competitive process, and so I was very surprised and incredibly honored to be chosen as one of this year's cohort,” Crocker said. “American Indians are so underrepresented in higher education that people don't bother to assess the percentage of any given discipline they comprise. This is especially the case in STEM fields. To me, this is tragic in so many ways. It's important to me to work to change this in any way that I can, so I am excited to gain mentoring in that area and to become part of an active effort to change things.”

The five-year NSF pilot program will engage the extensive network of individuals who are involved in AISES national efforts and its various student chapters. AISES is based in Albuquerque, N.M. At least 72 students are expected to be directly supported by the project.

Selection of students will seek balance with respect to a diversity of tribes, geographic areas in the United States, STEM majors and gender. While the focus is primarily on American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians, all AISES members are eligible.

Student participants will be provided information, mentoring, opportunities, and support on a path to become faculty members in STEM fields at colleges, universities, and tribal colleges across the United States. They will receive a stipend of $2,250 each year for two years. AISES will cover travel expenses for participants to attend research presentations, meetings and project related events.

Dr. Robert Megginson (Lakota), Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mathematics and Associate Dean at the University of Michigan, is a co-principal investigator for the project. All PIs are Native Americans who have become leaders in their respective STEM fields.

Throughout the five year duration of "Lighting the Pathway," this pilot project will be rigorously evaluated in order to help identify its most effective interventions. Because the results of such evaluations may help guide future decisions about investments in this and/or other projects, "Lighting the Pathway" may serve as a valuable model for programs preparing students of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds for academic careers.

Evidence of the national need for "Lighting the Pathway" includes data from NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, which indicates that American Indians and Alaska Natives accounted for less than .1 percent of science, engineering and health doctorates employed in science and engineering occupations in U.S. universities and four-year colleges as of 2010 – the most recent year for which data is available.

AISES press release

NSF press release