SKC faculty, students excel at SACNAS

Feb 9th, 2012 | By | Category: 23-3: Technology and Culture, Tribal College News

The October annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) in San Jose, CA, was the most successful SACNAS meeting to date for tribal college students— and for Salish Kootenai College (SKC, Pablo, MT) in particular.

At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Douglas Stevens, head of the Department of Life Sciences at SKC, was awarded the 2011 SACNAS Distinguished Community/Tribal College Mentor of the Year Award. Notably, Stevens was introduced not by a colleague, but by a current student he is mentoring.

Later in the meeting, four of the five SKC Life Sciences students attending won awards for their research posters in areas such as biochemistry/biophysics, health, and psychology/social behavior. Their posters covered topics such as risk assessment of mercury in local fish; genomics of bacteriophages; and a natural products-based, culturally relevant “project-based” chemistry module based on willow that has been integrated across chemistry classes in three different years.

Despite their much larger representation, only a few of the mainstream institutions were awarded larger numbers of undergraduate awards. None came close to matching the 80% success rate of SKC’s attending students.

Following the awards ceremonies, several people congratulated Stevens and the SKC students and asked the secret of their success. Stevens replied that to those in the tribal college system, the “secret” is no secret at all. “At tribal colleges, everyone is precious, and our students respond to that,” says Stevens. “I think this has really put tribal colleges on the map nationally as ‘research institutions.’”

Stevens adds that SKC’s success validates the tribal college system of small class sizes and intensive one-on-one mentoring. He adds, “Hopefully, it helps to finally put to an end to the notion that Native Americans, and more specifically, tribal college students, are not capable of performing valuable, legitimate, publishable scientific research, given the right nurturing environment.”

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