Heritage University applies new grant to Native American student - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Heritage University applies new grant to Native American students studying sciences

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TOPPENISH, WA - Heritage University in Toppenish is using a new $300,000 grant to help Native American students in their work within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

The grant comes from the National Science Foundation and will be implemented throughout a three-year process.

The effort is called i-Nature, and includes a partnership between Heritage University and Yakama Nation fisheries.

Doctor Alexander Alexiades, the primary researcher of the project, says this grant is especially important for Native American students because not only are they the most underrepresented group in STEM fields, but they naturally gravitate toward environmental sciences.

"Our idea is by getting them involved in these place-based local issues that are important to them, we use that as a conduit to teach them about all aspects of the sciences through this curriculum," says Dr. Alexiades.

Heritage hopes the improvements in curriculum and resources that will come with this grant will recruit more Native American students interested in the sciences.

"What I'm most excited about with this funding is just the opportunity to provide our students with research experiences, and paid research experiences," Dr. Alexiades explains. "We know it's a hardship for them to not work over the summer, for example, so they could conduct research. Well, with this funding, we're enabling them to do that and get paid."

The grant will also fund travel opportunities for these students to attend national conferences and meet professionals in their fields, as well as the ability to bring new equipment to campus, including electric backpacks that can briefly stun fish and allow students to study them and take samples.

Doctor Alexiades says the new program will incorporate western science with traditional environmental knowledge that many Yakama Nation students can contribute.