A campaign is in the works to bring together Native American students studying engineering and science.
A group of about 10 students are campaigning to start an undergraduate chapter of the national American Indian Science and Engineering Society, an organization geared toward promoting the science and engineering fields among the Native American student population.
Environmental engineering major Mariah Gladstone, SEAS ’15, who is leading an initiative to get the organization recognized by the Activities Board at Columbia, said that AISES will serve a community of Native Americans on campus who do not currently have a space.
Most undergraduate Natives are in Columbia College, Gladstone said, while “in the engineering school, there are not a lot of them.”
“I think it’s really important to at least unite the population that we have,” she said.
A Columbia chapter of AISES already exists for graduate students. Gladstone said that an undergraduate AISES group would serve not only students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science but also those who are studying social sciences or are on the premed track in the other undergraduate schools.
The chapter would host events for Native American engineers to meet each other and would connect them with alumni mentors—activities that are similar to those organized by the National Society of Black Engineers or the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
According to admissions data for the Columbia College and SEAS classes of 2017, Native American students comprise 3 percent of the 1,416 students in the classes.
“It’s really important to have that support group. It ensures that those students don’t fall through the cracks,” Gladstone said.
Kelly Mariko Anoiokapuuwai Luis, CC ’15 and an environmental science major, said that many Native students come to Columbia or other colleges from flawed educational systems. AISES, she said, will help those students support each other.
“A lot of indigenous education programs lack a strong science component or a strong technology component, so a lot of us do come from a space where we feel disadvantaged sometimes when it comes to the science fields,” Luis said. “When you have a society that understands each other’s struggles, especially when it comes to the concept of education … you want this community of people you can bond with and support each other.”
Part of the issue, Gladstone said, is that there are so few Natives on campus who are studying the sciences. AISES can help increase the numbers, she said, with alumni mentoring.
“It’s definitely there to provide that,” she said.
The group’s organizers hope to attend the AISES National Conference later this month in Denver. Tristin Moone, CC ’15, presented a project targeted at energy development in indigenous communities at last year’s conference.
“If you look around the world as a whole, a lot of the global energy development is happening on indigenous land,” she said, referring to both federally recognized indigenous land and areas that historically belonged to indigenous people.
Previously an environmental engineering major in SEAS, Moone transferred to Columbia College and is now majoring in indigenous studies through the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.
She said she appreciated the critiques her project received at the national conference.
“It was everything that I wish I could continually be around,” she said, adding, “There’s really no faculty readily available to offer that perspective.”
“I think it goes along the lines of creating the space where the indigenous perspective on STEM is legitimized and visible,” she said.
Sarah Elizabeth Stern, CC ’16, said she is interested in meeting more Native students who are studying the sciences.
“Here, I only know one other Native who’s premed, and she just so happened to live on my floor last year,” Stern said. “I’d really like to be part of a group that I can relate to on these multiple levels.”
Stern added that while she is a member of the Native American Council, an AISES club would provide a different environment for Natives who are pursuing science and engineering fields.
“It just makes me feel more comfortable,” she said. “There are different goals. This is science-oriented, whereas NAC is specifically culture things.”
Luis said that more Native students should be interested in the sciences and not be afraid to pursue majors or careers in scientific disciplines. With more Natives studying the sciences, there will be more variety of voices in the actual fields, she said.
“I think it’s really essential to have different views,” she said. “It’s not only in the humanities fields where different views are valued—it’s definitely something you should be seeing more in the sciences.”