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American Indian Science and Engineering Society conference

PHOENIX - Espousing the mission to ''increase substantially the representation of American Indian and Alaska Natives in engineering, science and other related technology disciplines'' may sound like a challenge, but 30 years after its incorporation, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society can lay claim to one word: success.

It is this word that highlights the title of the organization's 29th Annual National Conference, ''Mission: Success,'' being held Nov. 1 - 3 in Phoenix.

The three-day event includes a career fair, dynamic and nationally recognized speakers, panel discussions and workshops for students, teachers and professionals.

This national society of Native professionals and students currently holds a membership of approximately 2,500 individuals pursuing the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known collectively as STEM). Hailing from seven regions across North America, AISES includes undergraduate and graduate students and professionals. In addition, AISES reaches out to at least 34,000 Native students in grades kindergarten through 12 in 148 schools.

This exciting community of individuals will convene in Phoenix to celebrate, but also to offer their skills and learn about ways to further the AISES mission.

''What we're looking at is where the STEM fields ... have grown from; and when you look at the economic and nation-building needs today, you can see a lot of priorities do require these skill sets. So if we're going to fulfill some of our tribal nations' long-term goals, we're going to really need to pay attention to making sure some of our tribal students are getting these skill sets,'' AISES executive director Pamala Silas, Menominee/Oneida, explained. ''We want to make sure that students are thinking about pursuing this, because a lot of times they don't think its relative. They see engineers and scientists in lab coats working away from home, but when you look at the top economic goals of the tribes, land management, health care and these fields, all of these are STEM-related endeavors.''

The conference will include professional development seminars detailing interview and resume techniques, teacher training workshops for Native instructors in the STEM fields, and a series of activities for high school and university students geared toward college preparation and the expectations of STEM fields of study.

A career fair consisting of more than 200 booths will also be held as a strategy to build a work force development system to support AI/AN professionals in science, engineering and other fields. The placement of the career fair at the conference will help reach a large number of American Indians from across the United States and Canada.

''In order to ensure the best possible future for our people and our nations, we must take steps to enhance our competitive edge in the global economy,'' AISES board chairman Andrew Conseen Duff, Eastern Band of Cherokee, said. ''This means making a serious, sustained effort in recruiting, training and deploying a skilled work force that earns higher wages and keeps this country riding high in the economy of tomorrow. The AISES Career Fair attracts hundreds of AI/AN college students pursuing degrees in science, engineering and technology disciplines that, as professionals, will contribute to this nation's competitiveness in the global work force.''

On day three of the conference, numerous professionals will discuss the full gamut of issues facing Native people in the STEM fields.

''The work AISES is doing can best be demonstrated by the work that some of our members are doing in their communities. You'll want to look at John Harrington the astronaut, who spends a lot of time being a role model and giving back to these communities, and Sandra Begay-Campbell, who is leading the ribal Energy Initiative out of Sandia National Laboratories,'' Silas said. ''As typical in Indian country, we don't just advocate for that personal accomplishment; we advocate that that skill set or accomplishment is going to have impact in a community.''

Vernon Masayesva, Hopi, executive director of Black Mesa Trust and former Hopi chairman, will offer a lecture titled, ''Traditional Science vs. Western Science: View and Values.''

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One of Masayesva's many projects includes preserving the land, water and cultures of the Hopi and Dine' people who live on Black Mesa in Arizona. Masayesva's work is a prime example of the intersection and melding of traditional Native knowledge and philosophies with the STEM fields.

''I'll be talking about using knowledge that we gain from modern sciences and how that technology needs to be used in accordance with indigenous beliefs of harmony and sustainable life on Earth,'' Masayesva said. ''Western science is very fragmented. The focus is on one element of the whole picture - they're not connecting, but going in separate ways.''

He explained this fragmentation as negative and destructive. However, as Native philosophy is increasingly being incorporated into the STEM fields, significant, environmentally and culturally sustainable accomplishments can be achieved.

''The work of science is moving toward ways of Native knowledge of cosmology and physics and understanding that we are connected to all the particles in the universe - the joining of macro and micro. This is like in our Hopi kachina ceremony and the bonding of people with the elements,'' Masayesva explained.

Masayesva will discuss the parallels between the mathematical concepts of zero and one as the Hopi twin figures of the weaver and the communicator, as well as the triangle's equivalence to the Hopi triads such as the ear of corn, representing food, mass and the soul; the gourd symbolizing water; and the planting stick, symbolizing technology.

''These are very powerful symbols, and we as humans are unique from every other form of life. We can create with our hand and express ideas through abstract terms. We have the ability to think, make and communicate. There are very powerful forces which make humankind a very, very powerful person and so we have a moral responsibility to use what we have,'' he said.

''I hope I would bring a different color to the conference and help students to get serious about pursuing science and using their traditional knowledge,'' Masayesva said. ''How to apply and to use this as a tool to help Mother Earth.''

Lisa Neel and Lawrence Shorty of the National Indian Health Board, and Sam Deloria of the American Indian Graduate Center, will offer ''Public Health Professions: The Celebrity behind the Scenes.''

Sandra Begay-Campbell and Terry Battiest of Sandia National Laboratories, Nick Johnson from the University of Colorado-Denver and Cherylin Wilson from Oklahoma Panhandle University will discuss current renewable energy technologies available for American Indian tribes to develop their natural resources.

Inee Slaughter and Rachel Nez of the Indigenous Language Institute will present ''Technology and Language: Foes or Friends?''

Numerous other selections will also be featured.

The conference will conclude with a traditional honors banquet for the AISES Research and AISES Professional of the Year awards presentation.

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