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Students present research findings
By Jeremy E. Guinn, PhD, UTTC Tribal Environmental Science Department
5 November 2012

Three United Tribes students presented the results of their work over the summer as undergraduate researchers looking into aspects of ecology on Native homelands.

Nick Houston (Cheyenne River), Sicangu “Stimmy” Lee (Cheyenne River) and Macaulay Brown (Standing Rock) described their projects August 10 using photo illustrations, graphs and charts, and citing sources to explain their work to an audience assembled in the United Tribes Wellness Center Healing Room.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program. Each had been immersed in a 10-week research program, dedicating their summer to learning scientific research methods. The current REU program has been underway for three years involving Native students at North Dakota’s Tribal Colleges.

Nick Houston, Eagle Butte, SD, is a sophomore in the UTTC Tribal Environmental Science (TES) Program. His research is titled: Comparing Diets of North Dakota Bat Species Using Guano Analysis. Houston describe his experience in trapping bats in order to determine their prey.

Stimmy Lee, also from Eagle Butte, is a sophomore in the UTTC TES Program. He is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and is pursuing his interest in reptiles with the idea of becoming a herpetologist. His project is titled: Soil Characteristics at Rattlesnake Hibernacula, East VS West River. His analysis included soil and vegetation identification and testing near rattlesnake dens on the east and west side of the Missouri River in North Dakota.

Macaulay Brown, Wakpala, SD, is also a sophomore in the TES Program and a member of the United Tribes Thunderbirds Basketball Team. He presented his investigation: Spider Defense of Plants with Extrafloral Nectaries. His work included the capture of spiders and lab experiments concerning spider’s defense of sunflowers against grasshoppers.

All three presenters answered audience questions about their presentations, which were delivered on the Power Point format. A free meal followed.

Since 2009, the Tribal College REU SITE program has provided intensive 10-week research immersion programs for 27 Native American students attending Tribal Colleges. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates in Biology (REU-BIO) program. A $300-thousand grant over more than three years (Award #1237341) provides students with a research stipend, allowances for meals, travel, and lodging, and supplies for their project.

Colleges represented by the number of participants are: Sitting Bull College (10), United Tribes Technical College (9), Turtle Mountain Community College (6), Ft. Berthold Community College (1), and one student was graduating high school from Standing Rock and enrolled to attend University of Minnesota.

Participants represented seven different tribal affiliations: Standing Rock Lakota (9), Three Affiliated Tribes (2), Turtle Mountain Chippewa (8), Spirit Lake Lakota (1), Oneida (2), Cheyenne River Lakota (4), and Standing Rock Dakota (1).

More than 81 percent who trained during this program had not yet started their Junior year in college. First-year students numbered 14 and second-year students seven, representing the majority of participants.

There are clear advantages to providing this training early in a student’s career. More than 55 percent were male, showing that the program was attractive to male Native American students. This is significant considering the traditional underrepresentation of males among Native Americans in higher education.

The nature of the program – conducting research in ecology on homelands – appeals to male students in particular, due to traditional male roles in indigenous culture. Of the 27 participants, five were non-traditional (over 30-years old) and five are U.S. military veterans.

The Tribal College REU Site program provides high-level research training and has enhanced the research capacity at participating TCUs by requiring authentic collaborations with agencies and university researchers.

The foundation of the REU model is: (1) participants are able to stay close to home and conduct research important to their reservation, (2) research hypotheses are developed based on the observations and interests of each participant, (3) resources are available to fuse indigenous culture into research projects, and (4) emphasis is placed on the final research presentations.

REU student projects have included analyses of soil and water contaminants, studies of bird, reptile, and amphibian ecology, and investigations of the medicinal uses of native plants. Participating students have shown increased retention and completion of degrees while obtaining a solid foundation to be successful in careers and graduate programs beyond the Tribal Colleges.

Jeremy E. Guinn directs the Field Technician Program of the North Dakota Tribal College Research Experience for Undergraduates Program through the United Tribes Tribal Environmental Science Department. More information: 701-255-3285 x 1458, jguinn@uttc.edu.


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