AISES Student Representatives Adrian Riives, McKalee Steen, Celeste Groux, and Mindy Dallard gathered to discuss the important issue of balancing workload and self-care. AISES Senior Director of Engagement and Advocacy Lisa Paz chaired the panel, asking the student leaders for advice and tips on how to juggle components of a busy life and promote wellness in everything we do. After all, leadership is about pulling out the best in everyone. Groux agreed. “Leadership isn’t about you — you put yourself out there but it’s really rewarding to see the difference you can make,” she said. Two principal tips emerged from a discussion of staying on top of things: color code everything on your calendar and block out time for self-care (movies, friends, etc.). Also, find out what resources are available and use them for support. Steen advised taking time to reset: “Be honest with people about where you are. They will help.” Riives underscored the value of involvement in AISES. “Actively search out groups like AISES that encourage undergrad students in STEM,”she said. “This is so important at a time in life when self-esteem can be dicey.” She also urged students to make friends in their courses, adding, “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams come true. Education is such a privilege.” Dallard warned students not to compare themselves with others. “Realize that not everyone is on the same path and don’t suffer comparison with friends who are choosing a different life,” she said. Steen urged students to resist any feelings that they don’t belong in college, adding, “Maybe our ancestors didn’t create these places, but you deserve to be there and you are really needed there.”
A panel of academics and technical professionals discussed some risks for Native data and possible ways to avoid ceding cultural knowledge to non-community members. Panel members were Adam Recviohe, software engineer; Andrea Delgado-Olson, executive director of Natives in Tech and member of the AISES Board of Directors; Jeff Doctor, impact strategist for Animikii Indigenous Technology; Caroline Running Wolf, co-founder of Buffalo Tongue; and Michael Running Wolf. The goal they identified is for tribes to retain substantive control over their data — every tribe has its own knowledge system and should control it to be sure their protocols and laws are followed. Since licenses for open-source technologies are often vague and invite exploitation, communities need to be alert to retain sovereignty. Questions to ask are “What is the benefit for us?” “How can we be in charge of our stories?” “People are using books with bad data to explain us. How can we get it back?”
Heather Nelson led a panel from the National Security Administration in a discussion of the importance of language and STEM to the intelligence community. It was pointed out that language skills are useful beyond communicating with people outside your community — languages help you learn about other cultures and religions, acquire and fortify other skills, and enhance your ability to analyze information and situations. STEM skills are always needed, of course, but having another specialty like language is even better. As one panelist said, combine your language skills with research skills, and the intelligence community is where you want to be.
AISES CEO Sarah EchoHawk reviewed the latest “vital signs” numbers for the organization: despite a year of serious challenges, there are now 6,000 individual members, 198 College Chapters, 18 Professional Chapters, three Tribal Chapters, and almost $1 million in scholarship disbursements. She particularly highlighted the success of the Together Towards Tomorrow Fund, which supported students who were left in dire need by the pandemic. EchoHawk briefly reviewed the virtual 2020 National Conference as well as the National Gathering in Canada and Leadership Summit that year. She also pointed out that the annual report is available at aises.org for more information on the financial health of the organization.
AISES Program Officer Rennea Howell led an informational session that explained the National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair (NAISEF) and the Energy Challenge. Both science fairs encourage middle and high school students to engage in research, from brainstorming project ideas to creating and organizing data and reaching conclusions. For many participants, the presentation and judging process is truly a confidence-building experience. Students and teachers who want to participate but were unable to attend the session can find information at aises.org.
The most ambitious such project ever conducted in Indian Country, the 2020 Indigenous Futures Survey set out to determine perceptions and priorities of communities in the U.S., with a goal of helping motivate change. Conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, the IFS is a partnership of the Center for Native American Youth, IllumiNative, and the Native Organizers Alliance. Project manager Kris Rhodes explained the methodology and reported that a diverse group of more than 6,400 people, representing 401 tribes and all 50 states, participated. One result of the survey is a report titled “From Protests, to the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power,” which presents perceptions about government and community priorities, such as caring for elders and addressing violence against vulnerable individuals. The report shows that while Indigenous people vote in significant numbers, and made a crucial difference in the 2020 election in states like Arizona, they feel overlooked in the data. A second report based on the survey, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous People,” outlines the devastating and disproportionate impact of the pandemic in terms of mental health (12 percent of respondents reported losing someone close), financial stability, and education. The Indigenous Futures Survey will be conducted again in 2021, aiming for even greater participation.
STEM Activity Day
An enthusiastic group of 250 students gathered at STEM Day, sponsored by The Boeing Company. This pre-conference event attracted participants from several local middle schools and high schools, including Alchesay High School, Hopi Jr./Sr. High School, Phoenix Union High School District, Tucson High Magnet School, and the Native American Science and Engineering Program at the University of Arizona, which includes high school students. In addition to volunteers from The Boeing Company, seven other organizations offered interactive STEM projects. Stations for Moon Habitats, a Sling Shot Car project, Circle vs. Square, DreamLearners, Voices to Congress, and a Rube Goldberg Machine attracted participants throughout the event. At the AISES Marketplace table students learned about pre-college opportunities, from science fairs to scholarship applications. The goals of STEM Day are to introduce students to STEM concepts with real-world applications and to demonstrate why and how STEM is key to innovation and job creation. Judging by the level of engagement at STEM Day, the event met both goals.