Main Navigation

Native students learn valuable lessons that could improve their chances of college success

During the week of July 25-28, 2023, a group of 84 Native youth participated in IndigeSTEAM; a weeklong summer engagement program where 9-12th grade students accelerate their academic preparation for college, explore Indigenous-led, culturally relevant and immersive programming in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM), along with exploring careers in health sciences and medicine.

Students of IndigeSTEAM learn techniques of CPR. Click to enlarge.

The University of Utah American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) in partnership with the U’s Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine and Honors College hosted IndigeSTEAM, part of larger institutional efforts to build sustainable pathway programs for Native/Indigenous students to study at the university. The program helps advance the health, well-being, and academic success of tribal communities across the state. These efforts ensure tribal sovereignty through collaboration with tribal nations and further the institution’s commitment to the University of Utah land acknowledgment.

“The goal of the program is to ensure college readiness, provide an on-campus experience to motivate students to complete high school, and strengthen cultural identity and belonging by emphasizing cultural knowledge and traditional ways of learning,” said AIRC Director Samantha Eldridge.

IndigeSTEAM is funded by the 1U4U grant and in partnership with American Indian Services summer enrichment preparatory program. AIS PREP is a free educational preparatory program for Native American youth who live on or near reservations. Students experience three summers of rigorous science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction, which has been proven to raise test scores by 30% and help students become ready to pursue advanced high school courses. Students traveled to the university and stayed at Kahlert Village to celebrate the completion of the AIS PREP program. This summer, the program was expanded under IndigeSTEAM to include students along the Wasatch Front. 

“AIS PREP is happy to partner with the American Indian Resource Center to bring STEAM education opportunities to our students. This is our third year bringing students to the U, and the highlight of our summer. We look forward to continuing this partnership for many years to come,” said AIS PREP Director Kevin Sekaquaptewa.

“We envision IndigeSTEAM will attract more Native/Indigenous students into medicine to improve healthcare for all,” said Donna Eldridge, director of Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. She leads OHEDI’s tribal outreach and engagement initiatives to address the under-representation of Native/Indigenous students in STEM disciplines and increase the number of AI/ANs in health careers and medicine.

“I would like to acknowledge that the program allows indigenous high school students to explore degrees/careers at the University of Utah and connect to indigenous college students in STEAM,” said Dylan Bia of the Native American Research Internship (NARI) and Medical Admissions Preparatory Program (MAPP). “IndigeSTEAM embodies native ideologies of a strong community focus and holistic perspective to support every student’s journey in higher education.”

A hands-on suturing workshop helped students learn about basic suturing techniques from second-year medical students, Jenna Murray and Caroline Nelson, co-founders of the university’s first formal chapter of the Association of Native American Medical Students.

“Programs like IndigeSTEAM are invaluable as they not only show students how fun science and medicine can be, but they also connect them with Native role models who have pursued higher education,” said Jenna Murray. “The goal of our workshop was to show students that they can grow up to be physicians just like us, and that there is support for them along the way.” 

“Providing avenues for young indigenous students to see representation in historically underrepresented fields, though thoughtfully constructed and culturally conscious programs such as IndigeSTEAM, is an incredible way to encourage students to believe in themselves,” added Caroline Nelson.

Students visited the Department of Anesthesiology Center for Patient Simulation with hands-on practice on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), intubation, and ultrasounds with Dr. Ken Johnson.

Students of IndigeSTEAM learn techniques of intubation. Click to enlarge.

“We are grateful to the IndigeSTEAM program organizers for their initiative to bring students to learn about some of the many educational opportunities the University of Utah has to offer,” he said.

The experience for many was the first step to seeing themselves on a college campus. Students also visited the Crocker Science Center Laboratory, Honors College, Rice-Eccles Stadium and participated in workshops facilitated by Turtle Island Art Collective and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The event instilled a sense of belonging for many as they began to imagine post-secondary possibilities. 

“It is always refreshing to see young Indigenous youth on campus, it is a good reminder of how important our work as the AIRC is in fostering community and a sense of belonging for the next generation of young Indigenous scholars,” said AIRC program manager Tashina Barber.