Michael Dunaway (second from left) with other mentors and instructors of the HERS Institute.

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Pathways: A Unique Roadmap to STEM Degrees for Native Americans

Project PIs: Joane Nagel, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas
                     Dan Wildcat, American Indian Studies, Haskell Indian Nations University

Pathways, one of the projects within Kansas NSF EPSCoR, is a plan for creating a new education model that will help to expand the Native American science and technology workforce. Native American students can now follow a STEM pathway from high school to higher education. This new strategy takes advantage of the growing numbers and capacity of tribal colleges, which serve as stepping stones for Native students on their way to careers in science and technology.

By creating this unique training program for American Indian STEM workforce development, the Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Institute has been expanded to focus on climate change and energy development on Native lands. Kansas facilities at Haskell, KU, K-State, and Wichita State are being used for this initiative and collaborations are also being established between these institutions and the tribal colleges from which students are recruited. Additionally, tribal lands serve as research sites for the student projects. The Pathways program addresses both the challenges and opportunities of changing twenty-first century climate and energy landscapes by expanding research on climate onto tribal lands.

Michael Dunaway, a member of the Oklahoma Choctaw Nation, is one of the first students to progress through the Pathways program. As a Pathways intern at Haskell Indian Nations University, he participated in the HERS Institute and he is now pursuing a graduate degree in geography at the University of Kansas, exploring solar powered biodiesel refining on Native American reservations.

As a HERS intern, Dunaway began studying corn cultivation and problems that will occur with climate change. His research “Corn: It’s What Eating You” detailed the problems with both genetically modified corn and also with growing corn during a time when the climate is changing. The following summer of 2010, he returned to the program, acting as a “mentor” to new HERS students while also participating as an REU student in the Nanotechnology and Thin Film Laboratory of University Distinguished Professor Judy Wu at KU. In the fall of 2010, he entered the graduate program at KU and is currently pursuing an MS degree in geography.

He recently received a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The fellowship will help Dunaway pursue his graduate research, in which he will identify Native American reservations that have the strong potential for both solar density and ideal corn growing conditions, as well as good roads for transporting the biomass and biofuels. This project will generate GIS-based “suitability maps” that will help Native American communities become more sustainable, cope with climate change, and also be part of the solution to the energy challenge.

 

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