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UMM named top institution in support of American Indian students

Scholar of the College Jeff Aday '11, San Carlos, Arizona, biology, collaborated with Peter Wyckoff, associate professor of biology, on a multi-year project examining the interactions between an invasive tree, European buckthorn, and white tailed deer. He presented results at the 2010 Undergraduate Research Symposium, a Great Lakes Intertribal Council conference, and at the 2010 Ecological Society of America. Aday and Wyckoff will write a paper on findings for publication in peer reviewed scientific lite...

Winds of Change has named the University of Minnesota, Morris as one of the top 200 institutions in the nation in support of American Indian students. Published quarterly by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), Winds of Change is the leading nationally distributed magazine published with a single-minded focus on career and educational advancement for American Indian and Alaska Native peoples with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to the quarterly publication, Winds of Change releases an annual Top 200 Colleges issue.  

Tracy Peterson, Morris's associate director of multi-ethnic student programs, explains that the Winds of Change Top 200 College issue is not a ranking. It is an alphabetical listing by state of 200 institutions, including, Morris at which American Indian and Alaskan Native students are especially welcomed and nourished.

Morris offers numerous support programs for American Indian students, including scholarships, mentorships, and academic and social organizations. But its AISES student chapter is a key contributor to its visibility. The Morris chapter was born in spring 2005 backed by faculty co-advisers Joseph Alia, associate professor of chemistry, and Jong-Min Kim, professor of statistics. Alia sees his involvement in the organization as a way to get students interested in STEM careers and to form a nucleus of friends, creating double payback. Besides, he says, "It doesn't feel like work."

Alia's co-adviser, Peterson, observes that having faculty members as AISES advisers is rare. He knows from personal experience that at most other campuses the adviser is usually a staff member from student services. An AISES member for 20 years, it was the impetus for Peterson to attend college, he says. Opportunities for leadership roles led him to become regional representative for colleges in New Mexico and Iowa.

Melissa Carnicle '13, Garretson, South Dakota, AISES chapter co-chair, says, "It's great that UMM has faculty interested in doing this for students." For her, personal relationships with faculty is one of the major draws of UMM because "it encourages the whole person, both social and academic." She and Alia agree that Morris's chapter has really taken off in the last two years. Morris sends the largest number of students to the AISES national conference billed as a "one-of-a-kind" three-day event convening students, teachers, workforce professionals, corporate partners, and others for professional development, networking opportunities, student presentations, a career fair, awards, and traditional events. Eleven students, supported by travel scholarships and fundraisers, attended last year and even more are expected to present their research this year when the conference is held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in November 2011. Recognizing the host city and region as a major agricultural hub, the conference theme, Food for Thought, centers on issues of food, agriculture, plant science, and technology.

Morris's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion (STEP) and Wind-STEP programs may be part of the reason for increased student interest in AISES. The STEP program seeks to encourage American Indian students to pursue degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an effort to address the need for scientists in the United States. Wind-STEP focuses on wind energy and it's application to the needs and wants of reservation communities. Program coordinator James Cotter, professor of geology, states in his spring 2011 report, "When the STEP program was implemented in 2007 there were 33 Native American STEM majors and seven new freshmen STEM majors enrolled that fall. UMM now has 64 Native American STEM majors," nearly doubling in four years.

A chemistry, geology, and environmental science major, Carnicle considers the conference "a great way to network," especially since it may be the first time that some students begin to consider graduate school.

Carnicle describes AISES at UMM as "students who have common interests" and stresses the leadership role as one of its most important aspects. A NorthStar Fellow, she has mentored four students in the Northstar-STEM Alliance, a support group for incoming students. She thrives at Morris and credits AISES for helping her "get out of that shell." Self-described as "not good in high school," the support and mentorship she has received at UMM changed her future, she says.