Chief Dull Knife College Students and Faculty Collaborate on STEM Research

Feb 21st, 2016 | By | Category: 27-3: The Trials of Teacher Education, Tribal College News
By Jeff Hooker and Kacey Widdison-James

Faculty and students from Chief Dull Knife College take water samples on Montana’s Tongue River. Photo by Jeff Hooker

Chief Dull Knife College (CDKC) has provided mentored research opportunities for its students in STEM fields for nearly two decades. The college recently developed a distributed research model open to its faculty. The process began when CDKC faculty explored ongoing projects at other institutions to discover ways that science and technology could be used to investigate issues important to Northern Cheyenne students. This helped faculty visualize how to establish their classroom, student-driven research projects.

In the distributed model of mentoring, CDKC faculty became learners themselves. Faculty explored the traditional mentoring process and created pathways that allowed for greater levels of student engagement. They saw these new circumstances as an opportunity for their students to learn about research at the same time and in the same way the faculty themselves were learning. Veering from traditional educational structures and moving outside the faculty’s comfort zone, the distributed model emphasizes student leadership with faculty acting as knowledge guides rather than simply project directors. Student advice and feedback were incorporated at every level of the research process.

This past year, CDKC STEM faculty members Gary Ramsey, Dianna Hooker, Jim Bertin, Mary Noel, and Dan Pleier led research projects and mentored 25 students. Student interns selected a research project and faculty mentor that matched their interests. Research projects included alternative energy production, West Nile Virus research, rocket construction for the First Nations Launch, ground and surface water sampling, and GPS/GIS mapping of Northern Cheyenne ethnographic sites. “The students were blown away and were so very, very interested in what they were doing that they didn’t want to go away. [One student] actually said, ‘We don’t need sleep. We need answers!’” says Noel.

STEM research projects allow CDKC to redefine its approach to student and faculty engagement in the mentoring process. The distributed model encourages participation from all interested faculty members, involves students and faculty learning side by side, and relies more heavily on student leadership and input. Embedded in the tribal college context, the distributed model enables students to infuse Cheyenne culture, community values, and knowledge into the research process. Faculty and students continue to investigate ways to use STEM skills to benefit both CDKC and the Northern Cheyenne community.

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