Portraits of Giving Back by Native Individuals in STEM (2022)


Native STEM Portraits: A Longitudinal, Mixed-Methods Study of the Intersectional Experiences of Native Learners and Professionals in STEM (NSP) is a four-year NSF-funded project that investigates the experiences of Native STEM students and professionals in order to make visible how they navigate, respond to, and are changed by the supports and barriers they encounter while trying to persist in STEM. Through surveys and photo elicitation interviews, the study found that the desire and opportunity to give back to their communities and contribute to Nation building through their STEM disciplines play a key role in motivating Native students and professionals to persist in STEM. Examples of giving back that we will share in this video include teaching, creating safe spaces, mentoring, and serving as role models in their communities. As Nayenezgani*, a geoscience student said, “My mom started this fry bread stand out of a period of poverty … And it reminds me that there’s reason for me to be in science. I can make a success out of my struggles … and that is a reasoning why I am in science, is to help my community.” We will also share examples of Nation building from the study’s data, including cultural preservation, such as translating science vocabulary into Native languages, and supporting technological sovereignty. As Lake, a biology student stated, “I want to start including Native terms into the lexicon of science so that people can refer to them and start adding a diverse tongue that isn’t just Latin and English.”

*Pseudonyms are used.

NSF Award: 2000619


This discussion took place during the TERC Video Showcase Event Nov. 14-21, 2023. Discussion is now closed.
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Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
November 14, 2023 9:48 am
Hello, everyone. My name is Nuria. I am part of the Native STEM Portraits (NSP) project, a longitudinal study of the supports and hurdles that Native students and professionals encounter in STEM. Maria Ong (TERC) is PI, Matthew Madison (UGA), Tiffany Smith (AISES) and I (TERC) are co-PIs.

Thanks for stopping by and watching our video. This video shows some of the findings from our first round of data collection for the NSP project. We are currently finishing up our second round of data and we are gearing back for our data collection with institutions of higher education that serve Native students.

The data shows that the desire to give back is one of the main motivators for Native students and professionals to pursue and persist in STEM education and careers. Given how much giving back is valued among both Native students and professionals, our recommendation for institutions of higher education and employers is to integrate opportunities to give back to their regular offerings. For institutions of higher education, this may look like offering service-learning courses where Native students can use their STEM skills to contribute solutions to pressing problems in the community. For employers, this may look like providing paid time for Native employees’ efforts to do outreach to schools to encourage more Native children to pursue STEM in the future.

We are working to disseminate our findings widely, including this video showcase, conferences, journal articles, and a traveling photo exhibition that showcases participants’ photographs and captions resulting from photo elicitation. It has been shown at the 2022 AISES annual conference and at the library at Nebraska Wesleyan University. It is currently displayed at the University Art Galleries at the University of South Dakota. We would appreciate creative ideas from the video showcase audience for additional places where we could display the exhibition.

Looking forward to the conversation!

Jennifer Knudsen
Jennifer Knudsen
November 15, 2023 8:23 am
Great video! I appreciate your findings for “giving back.” When I taught math in NYC 40 years ago, this theme was stressed among the mostly Black and Latinx students I had the privilege to teach. Such very different contexts with the same message. I look forward to getting to see your photo exhibit.
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
November 15, 2023 10:49 am
Thank you for your comment, Jennifer! I am glad you like the video.
We have found that giving back is an important value for people of color in general, particularly women of color, so it makes a lot of sense to me that you saw this among your students.
One of the things that we are learning is that giving back goes beyond being a value; it is a way of understanding the world, a paradigm that shapes all aspects of life.
Nickolay Hristov
Nickolay Hristov
November 17, 2023 9:01 am
I connect with the points about giving back. From my brief experience working with indigenous communities in Michoacán, Mexico, on the conservation of the monarch butterfly, second to the realization that we must give back were the questions WHAT and HOW? We worked with a native speaker and cultural interpreter to understand and formulate authentic instances where giving back was genuine and meaningful for these communities. Perhaps in designing for how native STEM students and professionals are best situated to give back to their communities, we could also study and improve the understanding for what giving back means for non-native STEM scientists as well. Thank you for sharing this work, Nuria! It has made me think about these opportunities once again. 
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
Nuria Jaumot-Pascual
November 17, 2023 9:54 am
That sounds like fascinating work, Nick! In our work in NSP and other projects, we have found that the what and how are key to motivate people (particularly women of color) to study and stay in STEM higher education. In some cases, like when studying aeroespacial engineering, students may have a hard time finding ways that they can give back to their communities. However, computer science students find it much easier to identify ways to give back, since our lives are so intertwined with technology these days. You can read more about this here: https://www.terc.edu/publications/i-can-do-data-for-my-people-experiences-of-giving-back-for-native-undergraduates-in-computing/