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WSU researcher aims to make STEM education more accessible to Native Americans

May 15, 2013

Underrepresented minorities comprise approximately 30 percent of the United States population, but only 10 percent are college educated in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Native Americans and Aboriginal Canadians are the least represented minority group in higher education and are poorly represented in STEM fields at all levels. A Wayne State University study recently funded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science aims to change these statistics. According to Maria Pontes Ferreira, assistant professor of Nutrition and Food Science in Wayne State's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the study, targeting underrepresented minorities will help increase trainee numbers in STEM programs and change the face of STEM. While attracting and retaining Native Americans has remained elusive due to a perceived lack of cultural relevance and/or support for STEM, Ferreira believes there is a way to break down this barrier. "Native youth are taught to respect elders, and many elders are 'keepers of traditional knowledge' which interfaces with science," said Ferreira. "Linking elders to postsecondary STEM education for Natives will improve perceptions of STEM as culturally relevant and culturally supportive of Natives, and impact Native student interest, pursuit and endurance in STEM careers."