Native Americans are making progress in entering the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field, yet they lack proper support from within higher education institutions. However, progress is being made with groups dedicated to helping Native American and Chicano scholars achieve success through STEM-based initiatives – a pivotal movement toward increasing representation for these historically marginalized communities.
As a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and an IBM Master Inventor with over 80 patents to her name, Tara Astigarraga uses her experiences and achievements to inspire and guide young women and men from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM fields. With the support of IBM mentors and her first patent obtained in 2008, Tara, who hails from Arizona and has Native American heritage through her father, has made significant contributions to the field of storage, networking, security, and blockchain solutions.
Astigarraga is passionate about increasing the representation of Native American communities and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields. “When people talk about activities in STEM or how to build pipelines and get people involved,” Tara says, “they typically talk about the Black and Hispanic communities and even women. But Native American communities hardly ever get brought up because when you round that data, we get rounded to zero and we don’t even get included in those conversations.”
A variety of initiatives and organizations aim to challenge the status quo and increase representation of minority students in higher education. These programs include:
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)
AISES is working to empower Indigenous peoples in North America and the Pacific Islands through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This dynamic organization seeks to increase representation of marginalized communities by creating meaningful opportunities for students pursuing STEM studies or careers.
Native American Science and Engineering Program (NASEP)
NASEP is an ambitious program that aims to empower Native American, Alaskan Native, and Hawaiian Native high school students to pursue their passions and interests in STEM fields. By providing a year-long mentorship and guidance, the program helps students to understand the opportunities available to them, connect with experts in their field of interest, and successfully navigate the college admissions process. Throughout the program, students receive valuable information about academic success, and are exposed to a wide range of STEM career paths. Additionally, the program offers a range of opportunities for students to enhance their education and build their professional networks, such as college and scholarship advisement, attendance at conferences, and networking with STEM professionals.
The Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation
The Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation is committed to fostering the growth of Native American girls and women in STEM. They implement evidence-based, culturally aware programs at every degree level, from grade school to graduate degrees. By thoroughly tracking their results, they tailor subsequent interventions for even more success across communities – inspiring greater representation in this vital field.
Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
SACNAS is committed to cultivating a society of inclusivity and innovation within the STEM field. With an emphasis on providing education, career opportunities, access to mentorship programs, and exclusive resources for underrepresented groups, SACNAS works diligently towards creating an equal playing ground where diversity can be celebrated as it solves complex scientific problems.
American Indian Services (AIS) PREP
American Indian Services is leading the way in providing Native American youth with educational opportunities for a brighter, more successful future through AIS PREP. This free summer program offers students an academically rigorous STEM curriculum to challenge and engage them, featuring hands-on projects, stimulating homework assignments, field trips focused on potential career paths and daily lectures. They also offer this free program for three summers!
Indigenous Research and STEM Education (IRSE)
RSE is an organization that facilitates the success of Native American, Alaskan Native, Hawaiian and First Nations students in sciences like STEM. MT AIMS, a partnership between NANREF and The University of Montana, goes even further to ensure equity through Field Initiated Innovations from sixth grade education all the way up to graduate school degrees for Indigenous learners seeking higher educational advancement.
Cal Poly Humboldt’s Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP)
Cal Poly Humboldt’s INRSEP + Diversity in STEM proudly supports the academic and professional development of first-generation, low income, and historically underrepresented students in science, technology engineering & math (STEM). Through connection with local tribal communities, they strive to foster leadership within this student community that will give back to their own people as well as strengthen cultural ties.
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME)
NACME is a leader in bridging the gap between underrepresented minorities and STEM fields. Through their mission of increasing diversity in engineering and computer science, they are actively creating opportunities for minority college students to gain expertise that meets present-day hiring needs. By partnering with other organizations, NACME promotes academic achievement as well as professional development.
For over 40 years, The National GEM Consortium has been dedicated to furthering the education of traditionally underrepresented groups within engineering and science disciplines. With an impressive track record that includes graduating more than 4,000 researchers, professors, entrepreneurs and business leaders, this organization continues its mission to increase participation levels at master’s and doctoral degrees among African Americans, American Indians & Hispanic Americans.
Geoscience Alliance (GA) is a nationally recognized organization uniting Native American, Alaska Natives and people of Hawai’ian ancestry in the geosciences. GA provides learning opportunities for students at all levels: K12 to college/university and graduate studies. Educators, industry representatives, tribal elders, and faculty staff from universities & research centers have joined forces with this esteemed alliance. Together they are committed to broadening engagement within their fields while enhancing educational resources through knowledge sharing.
The American Indian College Fund
Since its foundation in 1989, the American Indian College Fund has been empowering Native students to reach higher education and create meaningful change. As the nation’s leading charity for this cause, they have provided more than $700 million that directly impacted over 100,000 Native individuals throughout their academic careers. By investing in scholarships and supporting 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), these investments help to transform lives of both individual students as well as communities across America where many TCUs are located on or near reservations.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Tribal STEM Subcommittee
The U.S. DOE Tribal STEM Subcommittee brings together the efforts of DOE working groups, Indian Country and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), to create actionable solutions for advancing a vibrant future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The partnership focuses on creating career opportunities for tribal members that could potentially close existing gaps in opportunity across all age ranges within American Indian communities.
Nucamp and Natives in Tech, two organizations devoted to tech education and the cultivation of a Native American technologist ecosystem respectively, have joined forces to create an exciting new opportunity. Through the newly established Natives in Tech Scholarship Fund, members from federally recognized tribal nations aged 18 or older can now partake in online web-development training free of cost.
Standing In Solidarity
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Economic Development Administration stand in solidarity with the Native American community as we celebrate their immense contributions to our economic prosperity. As part of the Department of Commerce’s mission, these bureaus recognize how expanding opportunity has driven America forward – laying key infrastructure for growth that benefits all citizens.