Grant Provides Research Training for Native Americans Pursuing STEM Fields

Achievement date: 

Responding to the enormous need to encourage Native Americans pursuing STEM fields, the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) with headquarters at the University of Arizona, has focused much of its education efforts on improving the STEM pipeline for this population. The Center in 2013 was awarded a grant to provide research training for eight Native American STEM undergraduate students for 10 weeks during the summers of 2014-2016.


The need for programs to support Native Americans in undergraduate STEM fields is immediate, with only 42% of Native Americans pursuing any form of higher education and only 13% of that number attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher—with few of those in STEM fields. The support provided by NSF and the Center is an essential step in helping these students to overcome their unique obstacles and gain the confidence and tools needed to graduate with STEM bachelor's degrees and pursue graduate degrees.


The grant will help fund the Center’s specially designed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that it calls Integrated Optics for Undergraduate Native Americans (IOU-NA). The REU IOA-NA program joins other Center efforts, including the Native American-focused ROKET (Research in Optical Communication for K-14 Educators & Teachers) and its pre-college outreach program called EASIS, where it has built partnerships with K-12 institutions with high populations of Native American students.

These three programs are each part of the long-term plan for CIAN to address crucial bottlenecks in the STEM pipeline from pre-college, through graduate school, and into industry for Native Americans. Besides the new program for undergraduates, recent efforts have included several optics demonstrations to middle and high school students, visits to primary school science classes, and the mentoring of other students at institutions of higher education.

Other recent efforts included the creation of an interactive virtual STEM comic book series entitled “Optics Adventures with Professor Watt and Chip” designed for elementary and middle school children. The comic series is aligned to state science standards and is designed to be an interactive tool for students to learn about science. The next step is to design the teacher companion resource and pilot the comic book lessons fall 2014. Also new is the development of a Graduate Professional Certificate in Photonic Communications Engineering (PCE). This certificate is a 15-unit graduate-level certificate that enables professionals and students alike to pursue a high-need area of specialization.