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New program creates pathways for Native American student success

ASU-Berkeley Lab program seeks to increase number of Native students pursuing STEM graduate studies

A group of people pictured from the back, silhouetted by a setting sun. They are raising their arms and making the pitchfork gesture with their hands.
January 28, 2022

A new program out of Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences is creating opportunities for Native American students interested in pursuing graduate-level studies and careers in ​​science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Enrollment data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that the number of Native students attending college is increasing. However, Native students remain the most underrepresented group in postsecondary institutions, representing less than 1% of those enrolled. 

The number of Native students receiving graduate-level degrees in ​​STEM fields is especially low. According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, in 2019, of the more than 55,000 students who received PhD degrees in the U.S., 120 were received by American Indian and Alaska Native students, with only 40 of those being in a STEM-related field.

Enter the ASU-Berkeley Lab STEM Pathways program — a new initiative that plans to develop and enhance educational pathways for undergraduate Native students while disrupting systemic racism, bias and discrimination in institutional policy and practice as it relates to STEM education.

Through an eight- to 10-week summer internship, a cohort of students will work with mentors in ​​STEM labs both at ASU’s Tempe campus and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to study and research various STEM fields, from astronomy to subatomic particles

Led by School of Molecular Sciences and Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery Associate Professor Gary Moore, the program was recently selected for a Creating Equitable Pathways to STEM Graduate Education grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The grant will support the pilot version of the program over the next two years, providing housing, a stipend for living expenses, technology, travel and more for the students who participate.

“I come from an underrepresented minority background and have an understanding of the opportunities programs like this can provide,” Moore said. “I was fortunate to experience summer research opportunities as an undergraduate student. These programs had a tremendous impact on my scientific career and in shaping my direction of thinking.”

Also involved in these efforts are ​​Bryan Brayboy, President’s Professor in the School of Social Transformation, director of the Center for Indian Education and special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs, and Laleh Cote, Colette Flood and Trent Northen from the Berkeley Lab.

“This project is necessary. Having someone of Professor Gary Moore's quality to lead it elevates its profile and allows The College and ASU to benefit from his wisdom and foresight,” Brayboy said. “The need to have more Indigenous students prepared in the natural sciences is crucial to the future of the planet. This is a great project, at a great time, led by a tremendous scientist and human being."

The program is set to kick off this summer, with an initial focus on recruiting faculty mentors who will invest in the aspirations of the students.

“If successful, the mentor-mentee relationships are not something that simply take place for one year or one semester,” Moore said. “These are relationships that ultimately last a lifetime."

In the long term, the team behind the ASU-Berkeley Lab STEM Pathways program envision this as a scalable model that could eventually be extended to other institutes.

“We can imagine an exponential effort moving forward, where we support not only the students, but also Native American faculty, with the idea that by supporting those faculty, each faculty member will mentor five or 10 students,” Moore said. “These are the kinds of things our team is thinking about moving forward. But we're excited to get started on this initial pilot program, hope for success in recruiting the students and mentors that will participate and are thankful to the Sloan Foundation for their support.”

Students interested in participating in the ASU-Berkeley Lab STEM Pathways program are encouraged to contact Professor Gary Moore.

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