University of Montana Press Release:

MISSOULA – The National Science Foundation recently awarded $10 million to six-state collaborative organizations working to expand the underrepresentation of Alaska Native and American Indian (AI/AN) students in STEM fields and the workforce.

The grant award is funded by the Development of Indigenous Research Communities for Leadership in Education, or Alliance of CIRCLES. The alliance is led by principal investigator Aaron Thomas, professor of chemistry at the University of Montana and director of UM’s Division of Indigenous Studies and STEM Education. Partners include universities and research institutions in Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

UM will receive $1.8 million of the total award to establish a network to develop and disseminate educational resources in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and to implement longitudinal programming, mentoring and teacher training to support student success in artificial intelligence.

The CIRCLES Alliance was launched in 2020 with support from the NSF EPSCoR and INCLUDES programs. (EPSCoR: Established Program to Incentivize Competitive Research. INCLUDES: Incorporating nationwide learning communities of underrepresented innovators in engineering and science.)

With this new funding, the alliance is poised to serve K-B students and teachers throughout the Mountain West.

Ultimately, through research and collaboration with tribal communities, the CIRCLES Alliance aims to inform academic institutions and NSF about understanding and respecting Indigenous cultures and change approaches to AI/AN education.

“The goal of the CIRCLES Alliance is to encourage AI/AN students to identify academically and culturally with an Indigenous scientist, technician, engineer or mathematician,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, more of these students will enter and stay in STEM-related fields and the workforce.”

To that end, the Alliance’s previous work has included partnering with tribal communities to better understand how STEM and Indigenous science are valued in those communities, and to gain Indigenous perspectives on how to better serve AI/AN students in public institutions.

UM is home to Indigenous Studies and the STEM Education Programwhich is dedicated to advancing Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and First Nations students in STEM academic disciplines and careers.

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