UM receives $1.8M grant to support Native American faculty in STEM

A University of Montana research team has been awarded a $1.8 million grant to promote professional success for Native American faculty in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Ruth Ann Swaney

The National Science Foundation awarded UM and partner institutions the collaborative, four-year research grant for the Willow Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate. Salish Kootenai College in Pablo and Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota, as well as UM, form the alliance.

“The reality is that the numbers of indigenous STEM faculty in higher education continue to be very small,” said UM mathematics Associate Professor Ke Wu, who is the principal investigator for the grant. “Our hope is that the Willow AGEP will help start and support positive change.”

The grant supports development of a model that contains a mentoring program, grant preparation, management training activities and an institutional support program.

The UM team includes co-principal investigators Ruth Ann Swaney, Blakely Brown, Laurie Walker and Michael Patterson, as well as senior personnel Amy Kinch, D’Shane Barnett and Katherine Swan.

At Salish Kootenai College, Steven Dupuis will serve as principal investigator, working with program coordinator Zetra Wheeler. Renae Schmitt is the principal investigator at Sitting Bull College.

The project’s organizational structure, processes and tasks emphasize four values of a Native American worldview, including respect, relevance, reciprocity and relationship.

“One of the really exciting aspects of this project is that a number of Native people are either co-principal investigators or project staff,” said Swaney, UM’s Native American Natural Resource Program coordinator. “We are excited that research is for Natives and includes Native faculty and staff members in the research.”

Swaney is an enrolled tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. Swan is an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Reservation. Barnett is Mandan and Arikara from the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold.

At Salish Kootenai College, Dupuis is an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and Wheeler is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe. Schmitt at Sitting Bull College is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Walker, Swaney and Barnett will lead the social science research component of the project, examining the personal, relational, departmental and institutional variables that support or inhibit professional development, promotion and career advancement of Native American STEM faculty. Data collection will include ongoing interviews with Willow Program participants, a one-time survey of faculty in STEM disciplines at the three alliance institutions, and a one-time national survey of Native American STEM faculty.

“We hope to build on the work of Montana University System scholarship of Karla Bird, Ruth Swaney, Sweeney Windchief, Aaron Thomas and Blakely Brown, who researched the experiences, mentoring models and persistence of Native American students,” Walker said. “We hope to develop a similar model articulating the personal, interpersonal and institutional supports for the promotion and advancement of Native American STEM faculty.”