In 1998, a conversation between Dr. Carol Davis of
Turtle Mountain Community College (TMCC) and Dr. G. Padmanabhan of North
Dakota State University (NDSU) led to a program involving all five
tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in North Dakota as well as NDSU
and the University of North Dakota (UND). The goal was to spark interest
in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among Native
youth. The program, later named Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate
Research and Education (NA- TURE), recently turned 20 years old.
Administered and funded since 2006 by the NSF and the North Dakota
Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ND EPSCoR),
NATURE has four progressive components active at all five TCUs: three
components familiarize students with their closest TCU, and the fourth
exposes TCU students to NDSU/UND.
TCU Summer Camp — a two-week STEM camp hosted by TCU faculty for pre-college students
Sunday Academy — seven monthly STEM modules provided to pre-college students throughout the academic year
Bridge Camp — a six-week summer camp developed by ND EPSCoR for incoming TCU students to provide college success skills
University Summer Camp — a two-week camp to introduce TCU students to four-year and graduate STEM degree programs
NATURE coordinators are Chris Dahlen, Cankdeska Cikana Community
College; Kerry Hartman, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College; Mafany Ndiva
Mongoh, Sitting Bull College; Dr. Austin Allard, TMCC; and Mandy Guinn,
United Tribes Technical College.
The pedagogical key to the program’s success is cultural
collaboration. Cultural experts work with K–12 teachers, TCU faculty,
and research university faculty to design NATURE activities. A cultural
expert begins each activity and presents the day’s STEM topic from an
Indigenous perspective. Making connections between Indigenous and
Western science and knowledge helps Native students navigate the two
views of the natural world.
More than 20 NATURE participants have earned bachelor’s degrees in
STEM, and some have continued for graduate degrees in STEM. While most
have obtained their degrees in North Dakota, a few have gone to Kansas
State University, Caltech, Dartmouth, MIT, and Harvard. Besides
engineering, NATURE participants have earned degrees in biology,
chemistry, environmental science, medical lab technology, medicine,
pharmacy, public health, science education, and zoology.
Many former NATURE participants are now succeeding in the STEM
workforce. A few recent participants making a tremendous impact within
their communities are Dr. Austin Allard, Turtle Mountain Band of
Chippewa (PhD, civil engineering, Texas A&M, 2017), now faculty at
TMCC; Saul Bobtail Bear, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (BS, environmental
science, Sitting Bull College, 2018), currently managing the Sitting
Bull College water quality lab and soon to pursue a PhD in land
resources and environmental science at Montana State University; Ryan
Brown, Spirit Lake Tribe (BS, civil engineering, NDSU, 2018), an
economic development planner for the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota;
Lukas Hartman, Hidatsa (BS, civil engineering, NDSU, 2018), a design
engineer on high-voltage transmission lines for Electrical Consulting in
Phoenix.; and Jeremy McLeod, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (BS,
civil engineering, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 2016), a
civil engineer and program manager for the Federal Aviation
▸ Dr. Scott Hanson is the tribal colleges/universities liaison manager for the North Dakota Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ND EPSCoR) and a former science instructor at Turtle Mountain Community College.
▸ Dr. Jean Ostrom-Blonigen is the project administrator for ND EPSCoR.
▸ Dr. Kelly Rusch is the executive director for ND EPSCoR and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at North Dakota State University.
Read more about the NATURE program online at ndepscor.ndus.edu/nd-epscor-programs/nature.