Since becoming involved in a geosciences research project run out of the Native American Science and Engineering Program, Devon Baldwin said he is more informed about how to conduct research and has begun to apply his investigations to his day-to-day life.
Baldwin also said his involvement in the University of Arizona program, known as NASEP, has further motivated him to eventually pursue medical school.
"It's a very rigorous process. I am finding out more about things than I would have, and learning more about my own culture," said Baldwin, 16, a member of the Navajo Nation, adding that water is "very precious to Navajo people."
As part of the UA program, and in conjunction with the University's student chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, or AISES, Baldwin and other high school students have been involved in a field study of water quality issues in communities across Arizona.
NASEP students will present their work during an Oct. 27 poster presentation from 1:30-2:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Gould-Simpson Building, 1040 E. Fourth St. The students’ presentation will be one part of a day-long research colloquium for students and their families.
"The Geosciences Outreach Day is a great opportunity for Native American High School students to be exposed to three major aspects of university, research, teaching and outreach," said Karletta Chief, the AISES adviser and assistant professor of soil, water and environmental sciences.
"They will be active participants in each area and not only learn a tremendous amount but also translate it to their peers," Chief also said.
The UA's ASIES chapter is leading the project, having earned a $7,000 grant in June from its national organization to fund the initiative. The ASIES grant, "Mother Earth and her Ecosystemss: Research, Education and Outreach Opportunities for Native High School Students," supports exposing high school students and their communities to the field of geosciences.
"We are trying to bring college to them in terms of research and engaging with other students and faculty members," said Amanda Cheromiah, a coordinator for the UA's Office of Early Academic Outreach.
The mission of the office is to help increase the number of students of color and also low-income, first-generation college-bound students eligible to enter an academic degree program at a university.
"And because these students are coming from very different communities across Arizona, we figured it would be a great opportunity to showcase their diverse work as a research group," Cheromiah said.
Early Academic Outreach coordinates NASEP in partnership with the University of Alaska at Anchorage through a National Science Foundation Partnership for Innovation grant. In an effort to retain American Indian students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, the UA grant is being funded at $60,000 over a two-year period with matching funds from the UA College of Optical Sciences.
NASEP engages high school students in a science and engineering summer camp and also a year-long program, offering students tutoring services and networking opportunities with other high school students and also UA students, faculty and staff.
Also, NASEP students receive an iPad and tours of UA laboratories and participate in practical projects aimed at improving their skills in research, collaboration and communication in academic environments. In exchange, participants commit to complete chemistry, physics and pre-calculus or trigonometry before graduating from high school.
Recently, NASEP students were trained how to test water quality during a workshop held at the Biosphere 2 earlier in the semester and guided in the process by UA student members of AISES, along with support from Early Academic Outreach and UA faculty members.
In particualr, students studied the presence of lead, bacteria, pesticides and minerals in water. They also utilized their iPads to record their data and to also connect with other students, faculty and staff engaged in the project.
Those students then return to their home communities where they trained a team of peers to engage in the project collectively.
"I like that we are getting into the practice of teaching others," said Brooke Claw, 17, who is in her second year participating in NASEP and is interested in a career in computer science. "And it gives you an idea of the different interests you may have."
The students then had to produce a poster and formal presentation.
"For a lot of tribal communities, water is a big issue in the Southwest, so we wanted to focus on something that would hit close to home for these students," said Shivanna Johnson, first-year graduate student in the UA's microbiology program and AISES project lead.
"One student already contacted an AISES chapter, so they are really looking forward to joining and making those connections," Johnson said, adding that the students also are heavily encouraged to remain engaged and to consider further research in areas of importance to them.
Johnson said that while the students will present their work and findings during the Oct. 27 poster presentation, the data will be returned to those tribal nations to which the research applies. "It could be used for further investigation but, for now, we are emphasizing the data for educational purposes only," she added.
Johnson will present on the Mother Earth and her Ecosystems project during the AISES national conference in Anchorage next month.
For both the Claw and the Baldwin families, the experience in the program and with the project have been transformative.
"Even the way you view water before drinking it has changed," Claw said, adding that she has become especially cautious – like Devon Baldwin – about different water sources and containers.
Claw's mother, Chandra Claw, said she appreciates the opportunities and knowledge NASEP has provided her daughter.
"I really like that NASEP has pushed her to go above and beyond," Chandra Claw said.
"If she had not been part of NASEP, I don't think she would be where she is now," Chandra Claw said, adding that Claw has always been deeply invested in learning, "but this is a whole different level."
After receiving training at Biosphere 2, Baldwin gave his mother a tour of the facility. He also taught other youth how to conduct the water testing, providing a presentation at his school. Likewise, he and other members of his family have become even more mindful of their water consumption.
"I am seeing changes in Devon. He welcomes the challenge of this different outlet," said Shan Baldwin, Devon Baldwin's mother.
While her husband is a computer software engineer and the both of them offer support and guidance to Devon Baldwin, she said NASEP is offering an additional layer of support and understanding about research and higher education. "NASEP makes it fun for them, and I believe that children need that, and they need the hands-on experience."