Montana State University (MSU) wants more Native American students to get into college—and science. “We have 12 Native American tribes and seven reservations in this state,” says Gwen Jacobs, an MSU neuroscientist and the HHMI program director. "But it's a big state." Getting from one of these far-flung reservations to MSU’s campus in Bozeman can take a day-long bus journey—which significantly limits the numbers of students MSU can attract to its on-campus outreach conferences. With a new HHMI grant, MSU will modify a popular half-day outreach program for middle school girls, Science Saturdays, to attract more Native American students. In addition to holding events in Bozeman, MSU will send undergraduates to those distant tribal communities to introduce students there to the excitement of scientific discovery.
The outreach initiative is part of MSU’s larger push to recruit tribal high schoolers into its Montana Apprenticeship Program (MAP), which brings 20 Native American students to MSU for a six-week summer research experience. “Half of the day they spend building their math, science, and writing skills, and the other half they spend working in a research lab,” Jacobs explains. The students are mentored in part by undergraduates doing research through another HHMI-funded program—often in the same lab. The older students help the high schoolers feel comfortable on campus, learn about working in a lab, formulate their research question, and prepare presentations.
MAP has run for about two decades and has received funding from HHMI since 2002. Of the 60 most recent MAP students, 66 percent have gone on to a four-year college, far more than the approximately 20 percent of high school students on Montana’s reservations who attend college after graduation. With the new HHMI grant, MSU will expand the number of spaces in the MAP program to 25.
Jacobs hopes that Science Saturdays and other reservation outreach projects still in development will further enhance the "pipeline to get students from the tribal high schools into MAP and hopefully then to MSU as undergrads.”