The American Indian Institute for Innovation (AIII), which engages American Indian students from high school through college in a nurturing educational community with a rigorous Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum, recently received a $50,000 grant from the Shakopee Mdewakantan Sioux Community (SMSC).
“This program is another opportunity to help our Indian youth learn important skills and further their education in these disciplines so that they can later return to help their own communities,” said SMSC Chairman Stanley R. Crooks in a press release.
The release points out that Native Americans are the most underrepresented minority group in the STEM fields, which is why the community donated the funds to AIII, which is focused on preparing students for careers in STEM fields.
According to the AIII website, about 170,000 Native Americans are enrolled in college, but between 1995 and 2004 the number of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields barely increased, from 894 to 1,504. “This is equivalent to only two new graduates per year for each of the 562 federally recognized tribes,” the site states.
“The goal is to get more kids into natural resource and STEM careers with a sense of service and community. The grant from the SMSC will provide seed money to develop partnerships to empower American Indian students and families to prepare for and access opportunities for higher education. The goal is to improve the quality of life by graduating American Indian students who have a sense of service and responsibility to their tribal communities,” said Stacy Phelps, Chief Executive Officer and founder of AIII, in the release. Phelps is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.
AIII provides tutoring and mentorship during the school year and college visits; nearly 5,000 have participated in AIII programs in South Dakota. With the SMSC grant, successful programs like Gear Up, a six-week summer pre-college enrichment program for reservation-based high school students, will be started in the Minnesota Dakota communities.
Gear Up began in 1992 and every participant graduated high school, 87 percent went on to higher education and 9 percent entered the military.
If the numbers don’t get students excited to succeed, then they should look at the example set by AIII’s chairman of the board, shuttle astronaut John B. Herrington (Choctaw), the first Native American to fly in space.