ESIL partners include (top row) Rosa Burnett, Harmony Spoonhunter, Susan Johnson, Ryan Ortiz, Kim Varilek, (bottom row) David Mays, Timberley Roane, Rafael Moreno, and Scott Aikin.
ESIL Partners include (back row, from left) Rosa Burnett, Harmony Spoonhunter, Susan Johnson, Ryan Ortiz and Kim Varilek, and (front row, from left) David Mays, Timberley Roane, Rafael Moreno and Scott Aikin.

A team of faculty from the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has received a $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM award to support the new Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands (ESIL) program. This is the second NSF award for the program, which is currently enrolling students for fall 2018.

Timberley Roane, associate professor of integrative biology, David Mays, associate professor of civil engineering, and Rafael Moreno, associate professor of geography and environmental sciences, designed the ESIL program with a focus on land stewardship with the additional goal to recruit Indigenous students and prepare them to serve as liaisons for their tribes and organizations. Two-thirds of the S-STEM grant is earmarked for scholarships, giving full-time undergraduate students in biology, civil engineering, or environmental sciences up to $10,000 per year for up to five years, depending on their financial need.

‘Profound need’

“There are many examples, such as the Gold King Mine spill of 2015 or the Standing Rock pipeline dispute of 2016–2017, where questions of environmental stewardship have played out in the context of Indigenous lands,” said Mays, explaining that Indigenous is inclusive of Alaskan Natives, American Indians, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians. Mays continued, “Professor Roane recognized the profound need for a new kind of educational program that would train students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) but also provide the nontechnical skills needed to serve as a liaison between tribal, state and federal organizations. We call it the Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands, or ESIL, program.”

These three co-PIs have teamed up with CU Denver’s American Indian Student Services, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and The Evaluation Center, plus external partners representing numerous tribal, state and federal organizations. At the first ESIL Partners Meeting on April 6, Roane emphasized a key point that makes this program unique – the simple notion that CU Denver does not own the ESIL program, but rather provides the infrastructure for a collaboration in which each partner’s perspective, insight, and contribution is essential for the program to be successful.

Grace RedShirt Tyon and Chelsea Situmeang
Grace RedShirt Tyon and Chelsea Situmeang at the ESIL Partners meeting on April 6.

ESIL students are required to meet the requirements of their home department plus those of the ESIL certificate program, which ensures that all ESIL students have a common core in STEM, social science, cultural diversity and cross-cultural communication. Through careful curriculum planning, this program does not require CU Denver to support any new courses and does not require ESIL students in civil engineering, biology, or environmental sciences to take additional credit hours for graduation, because all the ESIL courses that are not major requirements can be taken as electives. A key feature of the program, in addition to a traditional four-year STEM degree, is participation in training and internships designed to provide background with nontechnical matters such as cultural awareness, cross-cultural communication, environmental regulations and organizational dynamics. Additionally, this educational program is designed to support recruitment of Indigenous students.

Guide students through every step

“But not just recruitment,” Roane added. “We plan to guide our students through every step of the process, from applying to CU Denver, through logistical advice on moving to Denver (if necessary), through major advising, internships, and landing their first professional engagement after leaving CU Denver.”

The focus on land stewardship has been selected not only because it demands the expertise of STEM professionals but also because land stewardship is among the top motivations for Indigenous students considering STEM careers.

“If you know a student who might be interested in this program, or if you represent an organization that might be interested in partnering with the ESIL program (perhaps providing internships or extracurricular support to ESIL students), by all means please let us know,” said Mays.

In 2017, the team also received an award of nearly $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to support the ESIL program. This award is one of 27 design and development launch pilots in the second round of NSF’s program for Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES).

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