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Published January 15, 2019

Empowering Native American students in environmental decision making

Creating STEM awareness and careers for Native American students

In our society, indigenous groups such as Native Americans often struggle with the decision of how to address environmental issues in their everyday lives. Historically, indigenous groups have drawn upon traditional knowledge to address environmental concerns but modern society also offers scientific knowledge as a resource in this decision making process.

Sameer Honwad, assistant professor from the Department of Learning and Instruction, is addressing this struggle with a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant, “Voices to Hear (V2H): Native American Youth Learning about Environmental Sciences, Related Careers and Engaging Their Communities through Podcasts,” will help empower Native American students to use both traditional and scientific knowledge when making environmental decisions.

Initially, undergraduate Native American students will be the focus of the grant. In the second year of the project, the college undergraduates will mentor middle and high school Native American students in environmental decision making and scientific communication. As part of the mentoring process, podcasts will be produced by the students on environmental issues that are important to indigenous communities.

“While podcasts resonate strongly with the oral storytelling traditions of Native American youth, they also provide a mechanism for conducting scientific inquiry,” said Honwad. “The production of a three- or five-minute high-quality audio documentary/podcast is a multilayered, labor-intensive process that emphasizes scientific inquiry, patience and perseverance, ultimately requiring observation, data collection, analysis and building a summary or conclusion.”

Finally, the grant hopes to create STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) awareness for Native American youth, leading to students pursuing STEM careers. “The goal is to deepen the connection of future Native American decision-makers to their land, their community and the scientific processes directly related to their everyday lives in order to develop leaders in environmental leadership and advocacy,” said Honwad.

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