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Camp Boosts Science Literacy Among Native American Youth

University of Nebraska Medical Center continues work with Native American students in STEM fields.
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The shortage of Native Americans in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields should not come as a surprise.

“I noticed that there weren’t many peers as I was a student at the undergraduate level that were Native, and when I was in graduate school; same thing,” Dr. Kent Smith, a Comanche associate professor of anatomy at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, said in a Native Times article in February. “There weren’t hardly any Native American graduate students. I didn’t have a single mentor that was Native American.”

But the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) is trying to change that with the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) camp. In June, 21 students from reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota attended the camp.

According to a UNMC press release, the students watched chemistry demonstrations, learned about wildlife forensics, took field trips to Wind Cave National Park and the mammoth dig site, and learned about ethnoastronomy—the study of contemporary Native astronomies according to The Center for Archaeostronomy.

The camp is one of the programs made possible by a $1.3 million grant UNMC was given starting in 2005 from the National Center for Research Resources, a division of the National Institutes of Health. The SEPA grant has been renewed and will include an expansion of programs.

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The UNMC program is “aimed at strengthening the math and science curriculum among American Indian youth in Nebraska and South Dakota,” states a press release announcing the award renewal.

Through the recent renewal, high school students will be included with the implementation of summer research experiences, and two community garden initiatives will be started to boost health literacy among community members.

The first garden will be at Wagner Community School in Wagner, South Dakota and the other will be in Santee, Nebraska with the Santee Sioux Tribe.

“Community gardens have become a national movement with many thousands nationwide because of their capacity to support science and nutrition education for children, while at the same time promoting healthy eating and exercise for family members of all ages,” Dr. Andrew Jameton, a professor in the UNMC College of Public Health, said in the release.

Local libraries and the McGoogan Library at UNMC will also be brought into the mix to help provide health information to local communities through the free Consumer Health Information Resource Service, which includes journal articles, books, pamphlets and web resources.

“Reaching beyond the classroom to parents and communities is critical to the success of this project,” Dr. Maurice Godfrey, principal investigator on the grant and professor of pediatrics at UNMC, said in the release. “Community education programs will be designed to promote healthy living, increase health literacy and improve access to health information resources.”