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Oklahoma University Study to Investigate Dearth of Native Students in STEM Majors

Researchers from Oklahoma University have launched a study at four Oklahoma tribal colleges to look at why Native American students are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, according to a recent article by The Oklahoma Daily.

More than 500 Native American students at Oklahoma University have already participated in the study, which is trying to determine which factors influence students to pursue or shy away from STEM fields. 

Nationwide, Native American students are underrepresented in STEM courses, majors, and careers. In 2011, minority students, including American Indians and Alaska Natives, made up only 12 percent of students enrolled in graduate science and engineering programs, and 10 percent of the workforce in science and engineering jobs.

Researchers at Oklahoma University say that initial responses collected by the study show that Native American students who are "more communally connected" seem to be less likely to major in STEM careers. Some students have suggested that their tribes have an influential role in developing career interests. Researcher Joy Pendley told The Oklahoma Daily that the study aims to examine this and learn more about how tribes view STEM fields. "It looks like all the tribal colleges have a math-science route that indicates a STEM focus, and so we need to understand what their goals are," Pendley said. "Is STEM important to the tribes?"

Some schools have attempted to boost Native participation in STEM fields by offering programs for Native students. Last year, the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences launched an initiative to partner with tribes and create a medical training program for Native students. The University of Idaho recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to boost Native participation in STEM by developing and studying a "culturally relevant model for recruiting and mentoring Native students." Montana State University, the University of Montana and Washington State University also have received similar grants. 

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