Schools cross-breed science and culturescience and culture 

Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Salish Kootenai College and the University of Montana are developing Project TRAIN: Training American Indian Students in Environmental Biology.

Judy Gobert, College of Math and Sciences dean at SKC, says the program represents one of the first true collaborative efforts between UM and SKC.

“UM has done a lot for SKC but not with SKC,” Gobert explains. “This grant gives us the opportunity to really share and exchange information and talent. It’s important that university students realize there are nationally known Native Americans in the field of science. It’s also important that Indian students see that there are options beyond getting a bachelor’s degree.”

SKC students will benefit from research fellowships and career mentoring, while UM attendees will have an opportunity to learn about ecology and other issues from a tribal perspective.

“The design [of the program] incorporates native values and native science,” Gobert adds. “A lot of science on the reservation is particular to this land.”

Cathy Zabinski, UM’s director of Project TRAIN, says that part of the program will involve seminars meant to bring students together in a non-lab setting. Next semester, the Distinguished American Indian Science Seminar Series will bring visiting Indian scientists from around the United States to both universities.

“A lot of these mentoring components are specifically geared toward keeping minority students in science programs,” Zabinski adds.

Nationally, Indian students make up only about 0.5 percent of those who earn bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, and only 0.2 percent of practicing scientists and engineers.

Gobert also stresses the fact that Project TRAIN was formed by a group of female scientists, lending further diversity to a field which, she says, often carries with it an inherent gender bias.

“Science training is very competitive,” Gobert notes. “Women don’t often do well. We’d rather work together, and this feels really comfortable. All of us have left our egos at the door.”

Zabinski agrees, noting, “It’s important to have a diverse membership of trained scientists.”

The grant that funds Project TRAIN will provide money for four years, after which both Gobert and Zabinski hope to enlarge the program.

“This should be a fun experiment,” Gobert adds. “We’ll get the most bang for our buck by collaborating.”

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