A Reflection written by Sonia Ibarra, PhD Candidate, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Over the last two years, I have been very fortunate to attend the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Conference alongside bright young students from Hydaburg, AK.  In November 2016, we made our way down to chilly Minneapolis and were welcomed by many warm faces, hugs, and songs that echoed the values of many Native peoples throughout the U.S.  AISES is a unique scientific conference that reminds me that

1) We need to increase Native voices in the sciences and

2) We need to rekindle the understandings of our ancestors in solving contemporary problems.

 For me personally, accompanying students at AISES was a big deal because I value organizations that provide multiple roadmaps for increasing diversity of perspectives, worldviews, and values in the sciences.

As a graduate student who has had the opportunity to attend and visit various universities through coursework, internships, and research experiences, one thing that I have personally noticed is that little diversity exists within higher education.  Native Americans represent 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, yet less than 0.5 percent of all U.S. scientists and engineers are Native American (King 2013).   Therefore it is critical that we address ways of creating opportunities for indigenous youth that both acknowledges their value systems while helping them navigate and train for the outside world.  AISES does both of these things by integrating strong diverse cultural values into a scientific conference.

 At AISES, indigenous and non-indigenous scientists learn about and showcase cutting edge research, high school and undergraduate students have secured scholarships, internships, and jobs, and support networks can be created and expanded. This year one Hydaburg high school student (Navaeh Peele) received a laptop award for her exceptional poster presentation and one Hydaburg undergraduate student (Sarah Peele) received a travel award. AISES also provides experiences for indigenous students that undoubtedly helps them become leaders and scientists in various capacities.  Capacity-building is a foundational way to plant a sustainable idea for the future.  AISES helps plant this seed by empowering young indigenous scientists.

When we think about the sustainability of our decisions, the way we live, and the jobs that employ us, we should always think about how we plant seeds for our future.  Opportunities like AISES and nurturing hands-on science experiences for our youth can help plant seeds that will help Southeast Alaska become a better place for the next generation.  Let’s work together to support our upcoming leaders and scientists.

 

King, H. (2013) Native American perceptions of scientists: An ISE research brief discussing Laubach, Crofford, & Marek, “Exploring Native American students’ perceptions of scientists.” Retrieved from http://relatingresearchtopractice.org/article/276

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