The NATURE of things
UND co-hosts, inspires American Indian high school and college students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers
A welcoming ceremony in honor of American Indian students kicked off at the Gorecki Alumni Center at the University of North Dakota on Monday, June 6.
It marked the beginning of a two-week program for American Indian students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The program is called Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research Education (NATURE).
Many of the students attending the event are currently enrolled in one of the several tribal colleges in the surrounding area. The students generally attend the tribal college for two years, earn an associate degree and then move onto a traditional four year university afterward, much like a student attending community college might do.
Living the life of a UND college student, 27 American Indian students are staying in residence halls on campus, as well as using the dining facilities and attending special presentations by faculty members discussing the significance of their expertise on current problems.
Every aspect has been planned and coordinated to ensure a positive learning experience for the students involved.
Carla Kellner, with the North Dakota EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Office, located on the UND campus, acts as a facilitator for the event; lining up rooms for the students, dining services, completing necessary forms and filling out background information are just a few of the many responsibilities she takes on when scheduling the event for the students.
Together with Grant McGimpsey, UND vice president for research and economic development, who also chairs the ND EPSCoR Steering Committee, and Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Mark Hoffmann, who also serves as the assistant vice president for research capacity building as well as associate project director for ND EPSCoR, Kellner want the program to be a fun experience for students in an environment that promotes the pursuit of STEM degrees.
Kellner makes it her mission to ensure the students aren’t burdened with too many responsibilities while on campus.
“They’re giving up two weeks of their summer,” Kellner says. “So we try and keep it as fun as possible.”
While at UND, the students attend presentations and lab tours given by faculty in STEM related fields. The faculty -- or mentors -- are largely volunteers and receive only enough compensation to cover lab costs.
The faculty members are carefully selected by McGimpsey and Hoffmann to provide a broad survey of research expertise at UND with an eye on research that appeals to prospective students. The efforts and enthusiasm of the on-campus American Indian Center ensure the students feel at home and relaxed during their experience here at UND.
Of the many events the student will be able to take part in at UND, perhaps the most memorable will be their visit to the Geodome at UND. Hosted by Tim Young, a professor with the Department of Physics and Astrophysics at UND, the Geodome offers the students a chance to observe the position and brightness of real stars in the middle of the day.
One major aspect Young strives to demonstrate to the students is “bringing the stars to life” by associating them with stories from American Indian tribes. Elaine Fleming, from the White Earth Nation in Minnesota, spends the first half of the event telling stories passed down over the years about the Big Dipper, among other constellations.
The second major aspect of the event involves Young explaining the science behind the stars, thereby combining the American Indian culture with Western science in an event that’s meant to inspire as well as educate.
“I think you really let your imagination go (while in the Geodome),” Young says. “You think about life, what it all means and where you want to go with (it). Your life is a path you’re choosing to do; it’s almost like you’re getting information from these stars that can help you with your life path.”
The students attend presentations at UND from Monday (June 6) until Wednesday (June 8). Afterward, they are transported to North Dakota State in Fargo, where they continue to attend presentations given by faculty members in STEM related fields the Thursday and Friday.
Over the weekend, the students attend team building exercises hosted by NDSU. Once Sunday rolls around, the students then chose their favorite faculty member who gave a research lab tour from either UND or NDSU. The students who choose NDSU stay at the university for the remaining week, while the students who choose UND are transported back to the campus to spend their final week with the faculty member of their choice.
The students spend time in the faculty member’s lab, assisting in research. Once the week is over, the students are required to complete a PowerPoint presentation that discusses everything they learned and completed during their week researching with their chosen faculty member.
Kellner says a lot of the reasons to come to UND are all around the students the second they step onto campus.
“UND’s academic atmosphere speaks for itself,” Kellner said. “On a personal level, I think it’s obviously a beautiful campus. People come from all over the world to be here, and that’s one of the fun things about working at UND: all the different people you get to meet.”
University & Public Affairs student writer