Indigenous Students and STEM: A Pathway to Opportunity

with Kathy M. DeerInWater, Ph.D. of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)

Research suggests that Native American students are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Kathy M. DeerInWater, Ph.D., citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Chief Program Officer of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss STEM programs that are conducive to success for Indigenous students and professionals.

Posted on:

Oct 31, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: By the end of this decade, careers in STEM -- that's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- are projected to grow more than two times faster than all other occupations combined. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. To prepare workers for futures in STEM careers, students must be exposed and engaged through all levels of education, and that includes underrepresented populations such as indigenous Americans. Joining me is Kathy DeerInWater, citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and she is also chief program officer of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. And, Kathy, thank you for being here.

DeerInWater: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So, Kathy, how do you make all of this more relevant to the Native American students that you serve?

DeerInWater: That's a great question. So I think we do that by ensuring that STEM curricula really centers indigenous knowledge and helps students to see how STEM can be relevant for their communities and their tribal nations. And that's exactly what we're trying to do at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, AISES. We work hard to make PK-12 STEM curriculum that welcomes students from all backgrounds, welcomes their knowledge that they bring, and in particular indigenous knowledge into the classroom.

Anderson: So you talk about making all of this more relevant, but is there a particular example of how you are doing that for Native American students?

DeerInWater: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a number of programs that focus on computer science and one where we're able to work in specific indigenous communities. And we work with those communities with Knowledge Keepers, community members that can help us shape and mold established CS curriculum so that it incorporates concepts like tribal sovereignty, data sovereignty, and it helps students to see that the work they're doing in the classroom has a direct application to their lives as indigenous people and to their communities.

Anderson: It's amazing. And I'm wondering where you're doing all of this work.

DeerInWater: Yeah, so AISES, it works in North America. So both the U.S. and Canada, as well as the Pacific Islands, and we have programs that span the country. We also have college and university chapters, professional chapters across the country. So our -- our span is very broad. And in particular, our computer science programs. We've been working in Oklahoma. We've been working in South Dakota, out in North Carolina. Those are just a couple of examples. But we really do have a nationwide reach and we're always growing our programs.

Anderson: Obviously we have to have more, but there already are Native Americans who are represented in the field of STEM. Give us some of those highlights. Who are some of the folks that we should know?

DeerInWater: Absolutely. And at AISES, we really love talking about members of our AISES family. So first, I'd like to highlight Dr. Crystal Tulley-Cordova, who is Diné, and is now the principal hydrologist for the Navajo Nation. She engaged in AISES through a program to support early career faculty and received her Ph.D. in geology. Then another person near and dear to my heart, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, really helped to popularize indigenous knowledge and indigenous ecological knowledge with her novel "Braiding Sweetgrass." Lastly, I always want to make sure that we recognize those who came before us. And Mary Golda Ross was the first Native American in engineering.

Anderson: The American Indian Science and Engineering Society's been around for quite some time -- 1977. How would you gauge the impact of your work over that time, and what are you looking to do when it comes to taking it to the next level?

DeerInWater: Yeah, absolutely. So AISES has really grown over the years. Now we have over 6,000 individual members. We're in over 200 colleges and universities across the country working with hundreds of pre-K-12 schools. So over the span of 45 years, we really have seen a lot of growth. And I think as we move into the future, we're really looking to connect more with tribal nations and indigenous communities and really focus on community-based work and strengthening our tribal nations.

Anderson: And, Kathy, I know that people are going to want to know more about your work. What's the website? Where can they go?

DeerInWater: You can go to AISES -- aises.org to see snapshots of our programs, learn about our events and ways to support.

Anderson: Kathy DeerInWater from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, thank you so much for being here.

DeerInWater: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Anderson: And thanks to you for watching, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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