Duff: Leadership: The science and engineering of it

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Recently, 1,700 college and high school students; tribal leaders; Indian country community leaders; the National Indian Education Association; the National Congress of American Indians leadership; Fortune 500 companies; and federal, state and tribal agencies convened in Phoenix, Ariz., to attend the 29th annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society national conference.

Much of the discussion at the conference among tribal leaders, scientists, academics and students revolved around feeding the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It was quite evident that there needs to be a stronger push to make American Indian students aware of the incredible career possibilities in the STEM fields. When you Google folks like Ely S. Parker, Seneca, engineer and Army brigadier general under Ulysses S. Grant; Susan LaFlesche Picotte, Omaha, first American Indian woman doctor of medicine in the late 1800s; Jerry High Eagle Elliot, Osage-Cherokee, retired NASA physicist; Al Qoyawayma, Hopi, mechanical engineer, environmentalist and potter; Karletta Chief, Navajo, civil/mechanical engineer; and John Herrington, Chickasaw, astronaut, you will discover that we can impact science, engineering and technology - but what of the next generation? There is a need to aggressively feed the STEM pipeline.

AISES members collectively advocate and work toward meeting the ever-growing needs of the Native and global STEM communities. AISES is actively reaching out to other national Native organizations and institutions to develop innovative initiatives and partnerships to identify Native students who are entering the engineering and science fields.

At this year's AISES conference, Joe Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh, NCAI president and chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council, received the prestigious lifetime achievement Ely S. Parker Award during our opening event. The award recognizes innovative leadership and distinguished service to the American Indian community. The recipient is selected by the AISES board of directors.

Garcia is an electrical engineer by profession, with an electrical engineering degree from the University of New Mexico. In June 2003, he retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory after 25 years of service. He has taught numerous courses in computers, electronics, lasers and math at Northern New Mexico College since 1979. Garcia has been recognized for his service to his tribe, AIPC, NCAI and the state of New Mexico.

Garcia said during an alternative energy session at the NCAI conference, ''Collectively, Indian organizations and communities across the country must strategically partner with educational institutions to ensure that we feed the STEM pipeline with our best and brightest students.''

It is evident that STEM professionals and technologies play an integral role in developing and sustaining Indian communities, enhancing daily needs in communities from speech and language programs to environmental and public health and housing. A review of academic student data and educational trends illustrates that core competencies in math have a direct impact on successful attainment of advanced degrees in the STEM career fields. In turn, STEM professionals participate in the development of strong economies, sustainable infrastructure and ongoing economic development.

AISES has recognized that key partnerships are an integral way to leverage resources and funding and develop innovative think tanks to increase the chances of our student's success. I pray that each student, parent educator and tribal leader that attended either the NIEA, AISES or NCAI national conferences this year realizes the time for action is now. The future is being developed as we speak and AISES has a vision and mission to be a catalyst for change.

We, as Indian people, have the gifts our Creator gave us to solve our own issues. Our intellect, our creativity and our greatest gift of all - our children - will make significant contributions to STEM fields that will have global impacts. Indian people, Indian scientists and Indian researchers have made a difference in the world we live in today. It will take all of Indian country to support our children. Develop strategic partnerships, encourage our students and participate in creating the next generation of American Indian leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. What will you do to ensure that our Indian students are a part of the ever-evolving STEM world?

Andrew Conseen Duff, Eastern Band of Cherokee, is AISES board chairman.