Sloan Foundation Grant to Support Indigenous Students in Stem Programs at KU, Haskell

LAWRENCE — A joint project of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University was selected to receive a $500,000 seed grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Indigenous Graduate Partnership. This project will support Indigenous students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees. The project aims to increase the number of Indigenous students — American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders — attaining graduate and undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.

“The Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership is a tremendous opportunity to build and strengthen pathways for Indigenous students in STEM fields at KU,” said project leader Joseph Brewer II, associate professor of environmental studies and director of Indigenous Studies. “Our goal is not only to build this pathway but to create opportunity, and to address systemic inequities in STEM by supporting Indigenous students in best-practices and research-based protocols. Our overall goal is to shape a new, more inclusive future for Indigenous students in STEM fields.”

The project will help address a trend in higher education — the rapidly declining number of STEM field doctorates awarded to American Indian and Alaska Native students in the past 20 years. When this project phase is complete, KU and HINU will embark on a broader project to strengthen initiatives to increase the number of STEM degrees awarded to Indigenous students as part of the national Sloan Indigenous Partnership.

“We have a tremendous dual campus team at Haskell Indian Nations University and KU that are well suited to engage in these processes,” Brewer said. “The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has been successfully supporting Indigenous students in STEM for over 10 years now at universities around the country, and having the ability to tap into the national network through the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership is such a unique opportunity for KU students, staff and faculty.” 

The project includes several interconnected initiatives, which collectively build on the decades-long history of the KU-HINU collaboration and the many existing programs at KU and HINU that support Indigenous students in higher education.

"Haskell Indian Nations University is very excited for the opportunities the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership brings to Haskell students,” said Julia Good Fox, interim president and faculty member in Indigenous & American Indian studies.

Francis Arpan, vice president of academics at HINU, will lead the HINU team and said he welcomed this opportunity to expand educational options for Indigenous students.

The team will create a robust pathway for HINU students into graduate programs at KU through the efforts of a dedicated Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership program coordinator, Mica Mendez. The coordinator will organize workshops, work group meetings, conferences and special events. This work will help students transition from undergraduate to graduate STEM education and will improve the capacity of faculty and others to mentor Indigenous students. The project team will also offer workshops to strengthen faculty mentoring of Indigenous students.

The team will work to create a supportive and inclusive community of Indigenous STEM graduate students, including funding for scholarships to support seven Sloan Scholar graduate students.

This partnership will also create a new Sloan Undergraduate Student Program, expanding the existing exchange program between the two universities. This will connect HINU students to additional STEM courses as undergraduates so that they are better positioned to move into STEM programs as transfer students or graduate students.

“Graduate students play such a vital role in our institution — they bring new perspectives, approaches and innovative ideas that contribute to the groundbreaking research being done at our institution,” said project team member Jennifer Roberts, vice provost for academic affairs & graduate studies at KU and professor of geology. “We are so excited to support this program that will further strengthen our recruiting efforts of Indigenous graduate students into our STEM programs. We welcome the unique opportunities that this program will bring the student participants as well as the research and innovation that will result from these activities.” 

Because this work will prepare for participation in the broader Sloan Indigenous Partnership, the project team will collaborate with the national SIGP leadership team. Currently, nine universities participate in this partnership, including Purdue University, University of Alaska (Anchorage and Fairbanks) and University of Montana. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering administers the partnership.

The team includes representatives from KU and HINU. In addition to Brewer and Roberts, the KU team includes Jay Johnson, professor of geography & atmospheric science and director of the Center for Indigenous Research, Science & Technology; Paulyn Cartwright, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and director of the Office for Diversity in Science Training; Elaina Sutley, associate professor in civil, environmental & architectural engineering and associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging at the School of Engineering; Lori Hasselman, Native American Student Success coordinator, and Melissa Peterson, director of Tribal Relations for both of the University Academic Support Centers. From HINU, in addition to Arpan, the team includes Daniel Wildcat, faculty member in Indigenous & American studies and co-founder of the HERS internship program, and Josh Meisel, faculty member in geography & geographic information systems and instructor in the HERS program.

The KU Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the application and will help administer the project.

Photo: Joseph Brewer II assists students from the Haskell Environmental Research Studies program with fieldwork. Credit: HERS staff.