UI Announces Indigenous STEM Graduate Education Program

Monday, June 9 2014

MOSCOW, Idaho – June 9, 2014 – The University of Idaho is taking the lead in American Indian graduate-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education by forming the Indigenous STEM Research and Graduate Education program, or ISTEM.

The National Science Foundation awarded UI nearly $750,000 to create a national network of institutions collaborating to increase the number of Native students entering and completing master’s and doctoral programs in STEM fields. 

The Regional Native Network brings together mentors at nine institutions – UI, Idaho State University, Boise State University, The College of Southern Idaho, North Idaho College, Salish Kootenai College, Haskell Indian Nations University, Utah State University and the University of Montana – to recruit students, provide them an environment for success and help them complete the classes they need to graduate.

The institutions include tribal schools as well as those in states with multiple Native tribes within their borders, like UI.

ISTEM will work with Native communities and a national American Indian advisory board to guide the program, which will be largely experimental as it explores new ways to recruit and retain Native students. 

At the end of the grant’s five years, researchers will assess the data they’ve collected to see what methods were most effective. They then plan to expand the program to more states and institutions, said ISTEM director Ed Galindo, associate director of the Idaho Space Grant at UI and director of the nonprofit Native American Research and Education Foundation.  

UI has a long history of working with Native students across the country to help them complete STEM degrees, Galindo said. The ISTEM network will help students stay near their families and support systems.

“American Indians have always had an awareness of STEM. They’ve always been scientists, they’ve always been interested in how things work,” Galindo said. “It isn’t a brand-new idea. It’s reawakening an old idea among American Indian scholars.”

Brant Miller, a UI assistant professor of science education and ISTEM co-leader, said UI’s role as the ISTEM lead institution will include coordinating course offerings and supporting curriculum that the Regional Native Network can use for students, regardless of their location.

“We want to meet our graduate students where they’re at,” Miller said. “We want to support them to stay in their communities, not only to do their graduate work but also to support those obligations and desires in their home communities.”

Ron Hardy, director of UI’s Aquaculture Research Institute and ISTEM co-leader, said this project is just the beginning.

“We have been trying to get a grant to support graduate STEM opportunities for Native students for many years, and we finally succeeded. However, this just puts us on the bottom rung of the ladder, not at the top,” Hardy said. “There is much more we can do to improve STEM education for Native students, including undergraduate students and working professionals. We need to continue to address challenges that Native students face and help them succeed.” 

Increasing the number of people receiving graduate-level STEM degrees is important not only to Native communities, but also to the nation as a whole, Galindo said. Only 0.4 percent of Americans hold doctoral degrees in STEM fields.

“All education is important, but as I look at society, science and STEM are really important because of the major impacts we can have on our world and our thinking,” Galindo said. 

“Indigenous Program for Stem Research and a Regional Native Network of Graduate Education: A National Research and Educational Model,” award #1348410, was funded through NSF’s Research Infrastructure Improvement program.


Tara Roberts
UI Communications
(208) 885-7725

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.