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Engaging Native American High School Students in Science and Technology Through Hands-On Research

Students outside the Tribal Council House where they attended a meeting.

Students outside the Tribal Council House where they attended a meeting.

Kimberly Sheldon’s vision was to create a sustainable, annual summer program that helps students in rural communities, particularly those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), gain the confidence needed to pursue advanced study in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) by leveraging hands-on research. Ultimately, they hope to bridge the gap of opportunity for students who are part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians or who live in rural and underrepresented communities to foster access to innovative research and technology, expose high school students to a career in science, and help students transition to college life. During the first summer of the program, students learned the scientific method to develop a research project aimed at understanding impacts of increased temperature on species native to their tribal lands. Following data collection, students learned computer coding to analyze the data they collected. Finally, students had the opportunity to shadow biologists with the EBCI Office of Fisheries and Wildlife Management to learn about the work they do and the technologies they use. Sheldon partnered with Dr. Caleb Hickman, Supervisory Biologist, EBCI Office of Fisheries and Wildlife Management.

Students (front row left and back row) with Dr. Sheldon (front row right) and two of her lab members (front row center).

Students (front row left and back row) with Dr. Sheldon (front row right) and two of her lab members (front row center).

This year, the two-week summer program trained four students from Cherokee High School and Swain County High School in rural North Carolina. The students gained knowledge about the process of science, natural history of species native to the region, how to design and execute an experiment, and how to collect and analyze data. They interfaced with a variety of new technologies and learned how to code in the R programming language to generate figures of their data. At the end of the two-week program, the students gave a presentation of their research project at a luncheon for the EBCI Office of Fisheries and Wildlife Management. Students left the program with a better understanding of the process of science and a realization of their own potential in STEM fields. The project was funded in part by competitive mini-grant funding from the Office of Community Engagement and Outreach.