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STEM Camps Change Format to Support Social Distancing

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laptop display showing campfire and tent

Credit: Getty Images

North Dakota EPSCoR, in collaboration with tribal colleges and universities across the state, developed online camps for American Indian undergraduate students to engage in STEM enrichment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We wanted to keep the students engaged with STEM during the summer even though we couldn't offer the usual camps," says Scott Hanson, tribal college university liaison for ND EPSCoR, the North Dakota Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, and manager for Nature, Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education.

Hanson has organized the camp with the aid of associate camp coordinators Uwe Burghaus, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at North Dakota State University, and Tyson Jeannotte, an environmental engineer with the North Dakoka Department of Environmental Quality.

The coronavirus pandemic changed ND EPSCoR's plans. Normally, during the first two weeks in June, it hosts the Nature University Summer camp on the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University 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. 

ND EPSCoR canceled the in-person camp this summer, and instead offered an online camp option for tribal college and university (TCU) participants, 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 North Dakota: Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, Sitting Bull College, Turtle Mountain Community College, and United Tribes Technical College.

The 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 program is a longstanding 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 North Dakota and throughout the United States. As a result, Nature, which began in 1998 and was initially funded by a grant from the U.S. 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, work 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.


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