Newswise — ND EPSCoR, in a collaboration with tribal colleges and universities across North Dakota, developed online camps 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, said, "We wanted to keep the students engaged with STEM during the summer even though we couldn't offer the usual camps."  Hanson is organized the camp with the aid of associate camp coordinators; Dr. Uwe Burghaus, associate professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry at NDSU and Tyson Jeannotte, Environmental Engineer, ND Dept. of Environmental Quality.

During the first two weeks in June, ND EPSCoR usually 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 faculty, and conduct short research projects. 

Due to COVID-19, ND EPSCoR canceled the in-person camp; however, ND EPSCoR offered an online camp option for TCU participants this summer, including virtual lab tours, virtual meetings with UND and NDSU faculty, and online research opportunities. 

During the virtual lab tours, each 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, faculty had real-time discussions with students about STEM degree opportunities, research prospects, support programs on the NDSU and UND campuses, and STEM careers. Students participated in one of eight available online research projects. 

The participants were students from the five TCUs in ND: Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, Sitting Bull College, Turtle Mountain Community College, and United Tribes Technical College.

This virtual camp experience continued to strengthen the STEM pathways for American Indian youth in North Dakota despite the need for social distancing. The TCU Summer 2020 virtual camps, which began June 15 and ran through July 24, had 145 participants.

The Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduates in Research and Education (NATURE) program is a long-standing signature program for ND EPSCoR. It is a means to grow and diversify the STEM pathway. American Indian students are significantly underrepresented in the STEM ecosystem in ND and throughout the country. As a result, NATURE, which began in 1998 and was initially funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, was institutionalized by ND EPSCoR in 2006, and funding is now provided by state dollars (the UND and NDSU components). The Tribal Colleges Liaison and NATURE Manager, hired in 2015, works to build mutually beneficial partnerships between the North Dakota University System institutions and the tribal colleges and universities in North Dakota. Since August 1, 2014, it has had 3,568 attendees, 3,504 of which were American Indian or Alaskan Native.

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