November is Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the first blog post will focus on Native Americans in higher education as it relates to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as well as undergraduate and graduate education as a whole. This blogpost will also feature Native American resources and activities on the University of Washington campus in addition to the research conducted by Native American scientists at the UW.

Native Americans in the US, Washington, and in Education

According to the 2010 Census figures, Native Americans comprise 0.9% of the total United States population. In the state of Washington, this number is slightly higher at 1.5%.Concerning educational attainment, for adults over the age of 25 living in the US, only 17.7%  have a bachelor’s degree and  10.4% have a master’s degree, according to the 2010 American Community Survey. In the Native American community, the numbers are much lower. The National Center for Education Statistics show that in 2003, 9% of Native Americans had a bachelor’s degree and 3.6% had a graduate degree. Additionally, Native Americans only comprised 0.4% of all of the facultyin universities across the country.In the STEM fields, there is an issue with under representation with women and nearly all minority groups . According to the National Science Foundation, in 2008, only 0.4% of all enrolled graduate students in STEM were Native American. For undergraduates, the number is 0.9%. Concerning degrees conferred, 0.7% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in STEM fields in 2008 were to Native Americans, compared with 0.4% of master’s degrees conferred and  0.3% of the doctoral degrees conferred.

Native American Students at the UW, by the Numbers
The most current statistics listed on the University of Washington’s website indicate that during Spring Quarter of 2009, 1.3% of undergraduates and postbacs and 0.9% of graduate students and non-matriculated students were Native American/Alaska Native. Within the University of Washington Graduate School during the 2009-2010 academic year, only 1% of the student body is Native American/Alaska Native (100 out of 10,297), according to the 2011 Diversity Report.This means that when numbers are compared between the Washington state population and the University of Washington, Native Americans are underrepresented both in Undergraduate and Graduate education.

How to Increase the Numbers
On a national level, SACNAS works to increase diversity within the scientific fields by promoting higher education as a path to innovation and scientific leadership. On a more local level, the UW SACNAS chapter echos the goals of the national office in promoting science education through mentoring and a tight support network to recruit and retain minorities in STEM fields. Already, the chapter has been relatively successful. For example, last year, 7 out of 43 (22%) of our active chapter members were Native American. This number continues to grow.There are also many other organizations on campus with the goal of increasing diversity in STEM fields and the larger university community.For undergraduates, we have a chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the American Indian Student CommissionFirst Nations at the University of Washington student groups. Through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMA/D), there are several programs promoting diversity. Specifically related to the STEM fields is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, an NSF-awarded grant to the University of Washington in participation with  five institutions in the Pacific Northwest. The main goal of the LSAMP program is to  increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation rate of underrepresented students in the STEM fields. Also through OMA/D is the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Program, which prepares underrepresented, first-generation college and low-income undergraduate students for doctoral research through research opportunities and scholarly activity.For graduate students, there is Native American Students in Advanced Academia, the Medicine Wheel Society for medical students,  and the Native American Law Student Association.  Additionally, there are programs like the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program, an office within the Graduate School that works to promote diversity in graduate education.

There is also a considerable amount of activity surrounding recruiting younger students to college. The Pathology Department in the School of Medicine has a Native American Outreach Program for middle school students from tribal reservations in the Pacific Northwest. Our chapter also partners with the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council by tutoring students once a week and participating in social events.

To promote community within faculty and staff, there is also a Native Faculty and Staff Association at the University of Washington.

Academically, the UW has an American Indian Studies Program for undergraduates and a Native Voices Indigenous Documentary Film Program through the Department of Communication and the American Indian Studies Program.

The Indigenous Wellness Research Institute is perhaps the most notable research group on campus. Their mission is “To marshal community, tribal, academic, and governmental resources toward innovative, culture-centered interdisciplinary, collaborative social and behavioral research and education.” The research institute builds partnerships partners with tribal organizations to develop community-driven research and is comprised of mainly Native American and Alaska Native faculty and staff.

For more information on resources for Native American students at the UW, both in STEM and beyond the STEM fields, please reference the Tribal Leadership Summit Report for 2011-2012.


Spotlight: Native American Student Chapter Members

As mentioned earlier, our SACNAS chapter consists of many Native American students. This next section highlights their academic work and their contributions to the STEM fields.

Name: Katrina G. Claw
Department: Genome Sciences
Grad/Undergrad:Grad
Tribal Affiliation:Navajo
Hometown: Many Farms, Arizona
I study the evolution of reproductive proteins in humans and non-human primates. My research combines a novel approach utilizing comparative genomics and proteomics to address evolutionary questions. In particular, I’m interested in using proteomics to identify and quantify the abundance of male reproductive proteins. I am using a combination of population-level and long-term evolutionary methods to see how selective pressures have influenced the evolution of male proteins in relation to mating systems (promiscuity versus monogamy) in the hopes of identifying candidate genes important for fertilization and reproduction. Outside of research, it is important for me to remain connected to the community and my tribe. I continually advocate for the advancement of underrepresented minorities in the sciences through organizations such as SACNAS, MESA, and NASAA/NOIS at the University of Washington. My career aspirations include continuing in the research field and pursuing an academic position in the sciences. I also love to hike, travel, and watch cheesy television shows.

Name: Keolu Fox
Department: University of Washington, School of Medicine, Genome Sciences
Grad/Undergrad: 2nd year graduate student
Tribal Affiliation: Kingdom of Hawai’i
Hometown: Prince Georges County

I am a genome scientist. My research focuses on discovering genetic variants that contribute to health disparities in diverse populations. Currently I work with experts at the Puget Sound Blood Center, Seattle, WA. We are focusing on the implementation of next generation sequence analysis of human blood group antigens to increase compatibility for blood transfusion therapy.

My true passion is creating a better understanding of human genetic variation.  In the future I plan to focus my research efforts on underrepresented Polynesian populations. As a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) I feel obligated to give back to my community by focusing my research efforts on Polynesian populations so that we are not the last to benefit from genetic research. I am also involved as a graduate student senator representing genome sciences in the University of Washington, graduate and professional student senate.  I am keenly interested in science policy issues that will affect the outcome of genomic research in the future.

I am actively involved in the UW SACNAS chapter where our goal is to increase the representation of minority students in the sciences.  Hands down, diversity is the most beautiful thing in life.

I am a huge archeology nerd. I love to read (everyone please read “The Wayfinders” by Wade Davis). I love watching and playing sports especially soccer, snowboarding, and surfing. I’m learning to play the Ukulele (slowly) and if I’m not working or traveling I’m catching fish.

Name: Laurel L James
Department: College of the Environment,  School of Forest Resources
Grad/Undergrad: Graduate Student
Tribal Affiliation: Yakama Nation
Hometown: Harrah, WA

I am currently completing a MS in Forest Resources – Fire Ecology with a project completed in collaboration with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CKST) of Montana.  Thesis titled:  National to local:  a pre & post assessment of FCCS landscape variables for the CSKT.  I will soon begin a PhD program, focusing on Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Fire Prone Ecosystems.   I’m a member of the UW Bioenergy IGERT http://bioenergy.washington.edu Cohort II; an Interdisciplinary team that completed renewable energy assessments (Solar, Wind & Biomass) for the CSKT in 2010.

I am currently employed with the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) http://nararenewables.org a USDA regional Biofuels grant awarded to Washington State University.  I am the program manager for the Tribal Projects Team based out of the University of Washington – Chemical Engineering Department.  Additionally, I am a parent to a fabulous 14 year old!

Name: Ruth Anna Sims
Department: Electrical Engineering
Grad/Undergrad: 2nd year Graduate
Tribal Affiliation: Navajo and Sioux
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Currently I study Controls in the Electrical Engineering Department here at the University of Washington. I did my undergrad at Seattle Pacific University with majors in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics and minor in Physics. I was born and raised in Seattle so of course this beautiful city is forever my home. However my mother is from Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation so I have deep roots there and hope to some day use my education to benefit the reservation in some way, quite possibly using control theory applied to renewable power systems. I have 5 sisters and 2 brothers so naturally I like being around people and I basically just enjoy the social things of life.

Name: Joseph M. Yracheta
Department: Pharmaceutics
Grad/Undergrad: Graduate student
Tribal Affiliation: P’urepecha, Michoacan, Mexico
Hometown: Chicago

In my research, I am attempting to ameliorate, loss due to a health care model designed for a different population. The disease types, prevalence and survival rates are different for Native Americans. Moreover, the drug therapies are optimized for an enzyme profile other than people of the Americas. This creates the situation where an Indigenous Grandma or Grandpa sitting in town in Mexico, a mountain village in the Andes, the desert mesas of New Mexico, the tundra of Alaska, or on the rural gravel road of a South Dakota reservation dies a lonely, quiet and unnecessary death because the drug given to them either doesn’t help, cannot be properly monitored or increases the harm of whatever disease has befallen them. They often intentionally live their lives apart from the majority culture and are happy to do so. Equally often, they become sick and decide to avail themselves of western medicine to give them a fraction more of life to spend with grandchildren and impart the language or culture. Usually, however, the one place they can go to for help doesn’t know or care enough to hear them when they complain in a soft, embarrassed tone, “This medicine makes me feel funny, doctor, I don’t feel right”. Then the harried and  exhausted doctor says, “Sorry Mam, it sometimes takes a while to feel better, go home and keep taking them over the weekend and see me on Monday.” Monday never comes. Once again, a victim to their genes and historical trauma, another Native American person is lost. This is what motivates me. This is why I do what I do in the field of Pharmacogenomics.



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8 comments on “November is Native American Heritage Month

  1. Katrina Claw says:

    The UW Chapter has definitely become my 2nd family! Great job Native scientists!

  2. Tracie says:

    Nice job on highlighting UW SACNAS Native students =)

  3. […] of African American History Month and will be in similar format to our post back in November for Native American Heritage Month. Our SACNAS chapter is incredibly diverse, and unlike many other chapters across the country, we […]

  4. […] women we’ve profiled on our blog this year: Katrina Claw, Laurel James and Ruth Sims during Native American Heritage Month, Vanessa Galaviz, Patricia Montaño, Yuriana Garcia, and Faith Sims. There have also been several […]

  5. […] Name: Ruth Sims Department: Electrical Engineering Degree:  Master of Science Future Plans:  Continuing to a PhD program in Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington […]

  6. […] of the Navajo tribe and calls Arizona her home. A more detailed profile of Katrina is located in an earlier blog post on Native American Heritage […]

  7. Howdy! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the excellent work!

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