Montana State University

New film features Native American students' views on 'culture of science'

January 24, 2013


Maria Guzman, a junior at Billings Skyview High School and a member of the Crow Tribe and Jonni Bacon, a junior at Box Elder High School and a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe, participate in a Montana Apprentice Program project at MSU. Guzman and Bacon are two MAP students featured in a film produced by the MSU Department of Psychology that explores the opinions of young Native American students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The film was made by Taylor Johnson, a graduate student in MSU's Science and Natural History Filmmaking program. Photo courtesy of Taylor Johnson.   High-Res Available

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A new short film produced at Montana State University explores the opinions of young Native American students about science and their thoughts about pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors in college.

The film, which is available online at MSU YouTube, was made by Taylor Johnson, a student in MSU's graduate Science and Natural History Filmmaking program and features Native American students who participated in the Montana Apprentice Program. The program prepares students to succeed in university science majors.

The students describe their personal interest in and views about science. The film overlays the student's perspectives with insights provided by an ongoing research study about Native American students entering college who are pursing science and engineering majors.

The film is part of a $212,000 National Science Foundation-funded project called Supportive Communities (http://www.montana.edu/wwwpy/GSE.htm). The goal of Supportive Communities is to better understand the experience of Native American university students entering into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (called STEM fields) majors in college.

The Supportive Communities project began in fall 2010, and to date nearly 200 college students from more than 40 tribal nations have participated. Students in the project were entering either MSU or NAU.

Native Americans make up about 6 percent of Montana's population, and about 5 percent of Arizona's population, but few enter STEM majors, and fewer still become engineers, scientific researchers or teachers, or biomedical professionals, according to Jessi L. Smith, MSU psychology professor and one of the researchers featured in the film.
The Supportive Communities project followed Native American students who choose STEM majors as they entered college, to understand their successes and any challenges they face as they work to complete their degrees.

The film focuses on the students and what science means to each of them personally and for their community. The emerging data from the students in the film, the research study and the voices of the students interviewed, suggest that the current culture of science may need to be transformed to better recruit and retain these talented students, Smith said.

In addition to Smith, researchers featured in the film include Anneke Metz, professor of medical education at Southern Illinois University, and Erin Cech, sociology professor from Rice University. Smith said it is the researchers' hope that data and film from the Supportive Communities project will help universities develop better support structures to help Native American students succeed and advance to satisfying careers in STEM disciplines.

Johnson is mentored by Dennis Aig, film professor and program director in MSU's Science and Natural History Filmmaking program.

Classroom teachers who are unable to access the film online can request a DVD by contacting Johnson at trjohnson522@gmail.com.

Jessi L. Smith, (406) 994-5228, jsismith@montana.edu