Newswise — The ND EPSCoR State Office, in a collaboration with tribal colleges and universities across North Dakota, hosted an opening ceremony on Monday June 7th for the online University Summer Camp for American Indian undergraduate students to engage in STEM enrichment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Scott Hanson, ND EPSCoR TCU (tribal college/university) Liaison and Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education (NATURE) Manager organized the virtual camp experience with the aid of associate camp coordinators; Dr. Uwe Burghaus, associate professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry at NDSU and Justin Berg, associate professor, Sociology at UND.

Every June, the ND EPSCoR State Office hosts its NATURE University Summer camp on the University of North Dakota (UND) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) campuses for American Indian TCU students. Typically, during this camp, participants tour the NDSU and UND campuses, tour STEM labs, meet research university (RU) faculty, and conduct short research projects. 

Due to COVID-19, this year and last, the ND EPSCoR Sate Office is offering an online camp option for TCU participants, including virtual RU lab tours, virtual meetings with RU faculty, and online research opportunities. 

During the virtual lab tours, each RU faculty researcher talked to participants about his/her area of teaching and research and showed photos and videos of their research process. During the virtual meetings, RU faculty have real-time discussions with TCU students about STEM degree opportunities, research prospects, support programs on the NDSU and UND campuses, and STEM careers. Students also participate in online research projects. 

The 2021 participants are students from two of the TCUs in ND: Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College and Turtle Mountain Community College.

This virtual camp experience continues to strengthen the STEM pathways for American Indian youth in North Dakota despite the need for social distancing. The opening ceremony kicked off TCU Summer 2021 virtual camps, which will run through the end of July. The NATURE program also includes the TCU summer and Bridge camps. Which will be taking place throughout the summer as well as the Sunday Academy program, which runs during the academic year.

The four components of the NATURE program are a means to grow and diversify the STEM pathway within ND. American Indian students are significantly underrepresented in the STEM ecosystem in ND and throughout the country. As a North Dakota EPSCoR State Office-sponsored education outreach project, NATURE aims to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education among middle school, high school, and tribal college students, and to build a pathway for American Indians living in North Dakota who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM disciplines.

The TCU Liaison and NATURE Manager, hired in 2015, works to build mutually beneficial partnerships between the North Dakota University System institutions and the TCUs in North Dakota. NATURE builds on activities of a long-term collaboration between TCUs in North Dakota, NDSU, and UND. NATURE programming at NDSU and UND is currently funded by the ND EPSCoR State Office. NATURE programming at the TCUs is funded by the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Track-1 Cooperative Agreement ND-ACES OIA #1946202.

Read more about the NATURE camps on the ND EPSCoR website.

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