Sarah EchoHawk and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society are bridging the gap between Native American youths seeking careers and employers eager to hire science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors.
One of the first steps is understanding Native American history.
“We try to convey to the kids that Indians really were the first scientists, astronomers and botanists. It’s something innate in our culture, but we don’t talk about it in that way,” says EchoHawk, CEO of AISES. “A typical attitude among children is, ‘Engineering? What does that have to do with me? I grew up on the reservation.’ ”
AISES recently hit a major milestone in helping bridge the gap when Intel announced it would provide $1.32 million in scholarship support for Native American STEM students.
“When you talk about diversity of thought, the way American Indian people live and the way we have been taught to think and analyze problems is valuable,” she says. “When American Indians get degrees and get those jobs, they often do very well. They bring a unique perspective with analytical and critical thinking. We have employers who are wowed when they hire Native American employees.”
Each year Intel will provide 40 Native American university students with financial support, Intel mentors, and opportunities for paid internships or jobs at Intel upon graduation. Students will receive scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per academic year.
Cultural support will be a critical component as well, whether it’s helping employers understand that Native Americans may need to go home for ceremonies or Native Americans trying to get connected to new communities near their workplaces.
Intel’s mentoring program will help with post-graduation transitions, including help finding jobs, building resumes and improving interview skills, EchoHawk says.
While the scholarships are for undergraduate and graduate students, Intel and AISES also are looking at developing a culturally-appropriate computer science curriculum for Native American high school students.
Last October, Intel hosted a thought leadership event in partnership with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). The event brought together key leaders in academia, government, tribal nations, nonprofits and the tech industry. Intel subsequently produced a white paper outlining six key recommendations for increasing Native American student participation and retention in STEM education.
The program with AISES was announced at the White House Computer Science for All initiative in December.
“We know that exposure to role models and mentors and infusion of relevant STEM curriculum will make a huge difference in creating stronger pathways for student success,” said Barbara Whye, Intel’s executive director of strategy and external alliances.
The Intel relationship is part of a broader effort by AISES.
EchoHawk has aligned with groups including the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
“They have had a lot more success simply because of their population being much higher than ours,” she says. Associating with those groups has raised the profile of AISES.
“We really have been growing and been getting a lot more companies and government agencies coming to AISES,” EchoHawk says.
AISES is part of a collective goal of graduating 50,000 diverse engineers by 2027.
AISES also has a leadership summit, virtual science fair and is starting to get into codeathons, EchoHawk says. During her four years, the organization’s revenue has increased from $2.3 million to somewhere near $4.4 million this year.
EchoHawk says the current efforts in STEM parallel the Tribal movement for self-determination in the late 1960s and 1970s. Indians realized the need then to develop trained professionals, such as lawyers.
Now, amid the Standing Rock situation, she says, “How cool would it be for tribes to have their own petroleum engineers to understand the issues at hand.”
To get more information about AISES, the white paper and the scholarship program, visit aises.org. ♦