American Indian Science and Engineering Society Receives $1.5 Million NSF Grant

Drs. Nancy Jackson, Deborah Brennan and Velinda Woriax interviewing graduate student research poster presenter, American Indian Science and Engineering Society 2012 National Conference, Anchorage, Alaska.

Drs. Nancy Jackson, Deborah Brennan and Velinda Woriax interviewing graduate student research poster presenter, American Indian Science and Engineering Society 2012 National Conference, Anchorage, Alaska.

ALBUQUERQUE—Sarah EchoHawk, CEO of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), announced that the organization has been awarded a grant of$1.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The project is sponsored by multiple directorates at NSF including the Directorates for Biological Sciences, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Engineering, Education, Geosciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, and the Office of International and Integrative Activities.

According to EchoHawk, this is the largest NSF grant AISES has ever received, both in terms of the amount and the scope.

Titled Lighting the Pathway to Faculty Careers for Natives in STEM, the program is designed to boost the number of AISES student members who persist in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The long term goal is to increase the number of AISES members who pursue faculty positions in STEM disciplines at United States colleges and universities.

“The absolute dearth of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians  (AI/AN/NH) represented within faculty—and particularly STEM faculty—in institutions of higher learning has long been a national problem,” said Echohawk. “We look forward to helping make a significant impact in reversing this trend.”

This NSF grant is a one-of-a-kind attempt at full-service mentoring and exposure to opportunities that will help move individuals further along their academic paths. A five-year pilot project will be implemented at the national level, using the extensive network of individuals who are engaged in AISES national efforts or its various student chapters and will develop a model framework for supporting AI/AN/NH higher education students who are pursuing education to establish careers as academic faculty members in STEM. The impact of program involvement before, during, and after students’ participation will be evaluated. These published findings will serve as a guide for future projects.

Sally O’Connor, NSF Program Officer, said three things are particularly notable about this grant.  “First, its focus is primarily Native American, although it doesn’t exclude any others. Second, the PIs are all Native Americans who have become leaders in their respective STEM fields. And finally,” she continued, “the work will help determine the most critical interventions which lead AI/AN/NHs to achieve PhDs in STEM fields.”

In the past, public and private entities have attempted to improve the representation of Natives in STEM faculty positions, but have met with only limited success. However, this project, with its five-year pilot program being supported by NSF and implemented at the national level is “designed to make a real difference,” according to Dr. Melinda McClanahan, Chair of the AISES Board of Directors.  She added, “To continue to maintain the United States’ competiveness in the global economy, the country must utilize all of its talent in order to advance scientific knowledge and technological innovation. That is the reason this project is so important.”

According to Steven P. Craddock, Tribal Councilman for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), “I can attest that there is a great need for more Native role models in STEM faculty positions. I do believe that Native Americans have strong aptitude for the sciences and the country cannot afford to let this talent go untapped. Increasing the number of Native American professors in the STEM fields will certainly help with the recruitment, retention, and success of Native STEM majors.”

Co-Principal Investigators for the Project:

Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen (Mohawk), Northeastern University

Dr. Ondrechen is Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Northeastern University. Her NSF-funded research group specializes in theoretical chemistry, computational biology, and genomics. She is Immediate Past Chair of the AISES Board of Directors. From Northwestern University, she holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry and from Reed College, she holds an ACS-certified B.A. in Chemistry.

Dr. Chris Cornelius (Oneida), University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dr. Cornelius is Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. FromVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, he holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and a Master of Engineering in Chemical Engineering. From Montana State University, he holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. His research experience spans over 15 years as a faculty member, a senior administrator in academia, a national laboratory staff scientist, and an industrial engineer. In addition to teaching and research, he is Editor of the Journal of Materials Science.

Dr. Robert Megginson (Lakota), University of Michigan

Dr. Megginson is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mathematics and Associate Dean at the University of Michigan. He is former Deputy Director at Mathematical Sciences and Research Institute (MSRI) and a long-time mentor for AISES students. In 1997, he received the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. In 1999, he received AISES’ Ely S. Parker Award, for lifetime professional achievement and service to the Native American community. From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics, an A.M. in Statistics and a B.S. in Physics.

Dr. Melinda McClanahan (Choctaw), Retired, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Dr. McClanahan is the current Chair of the AISES Board of Directors. She holds the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Radiation Biology from Texas Woman’s University and has an MBA degree from New Mexico Highlands University.  She served as professor, university department head (bringing a valuable perspective on the faculty hiring process), and dean of science and engineering for 20 years before joining the U.S. Senior Executive Service in Washington, DC. She retired in 2010 after nine years as the Chief Information Officer of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. She is an Adjunct Professor with the American University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


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