Montana State University

MSU Native American students receive national recognition

November 19, 2004 -- by Jean Arthur, MSU News Service


National award winners and Montana State University advisors (l to r) Wes Lynch, Denean Standing, Khena Bullshields, Mariam Stewart, Mike Babcock and John Watts. (Photo by Jean Arthur, MSU News Service.)   High-Res Available

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Bozeman--Mariam Stewart, a junior in nursing at Montana State University in Bozeman, examines differences in attitudes toward obesity among Native American and non-Native adolescents. The research has taken her from an MSU psychology lab into the national spotlight.

Stewart is one of three MSU students who won national research awards recently at the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science conference in San Antonio, Texas. They were recognized from among 3,000 students and 500 entries for excellence of their scientific posters and presentations.

Denean Standing, an Assiniboine-Sioux from Ft. Peck, Khena Bullshields, a Blood Indian from both Bigfork and Canada, and Stewart, a Crow Indian from Crow Agency, each received a $250 award.

They competed as part of a team from the American Indian Research Opportunities (AIRO), a consortium of Montana's seven tribal colleges and MSU. AIRO provides opportunities for American Indian students in career fields where minorities are underrepresented.

"The success of these three young women demonstrates the value of support programs such as AIRO and the National Institutes of Health," said John Watts, AIRO's interim director. "More importantly, they earned success through hard work. They competed against students from Ivy League schools, large research institutions and small colleges--and came out on top."

All three attribute their successes on the national level to their mentors on the local level.

"I am really thankful that I had such good teachers at Wolf Point High School," said Standing, a junior in cell biology and neuroscience. She said that a solid grounding in calculus, chemistry and advanced-placement English helped prepare her for challenging college-level work.

"We are Native American women--statistically, we should not be here," said Bullshields, a junior in psychology. "Through hardships--and our moms who pushed us and brought us up to be strong women--nothing stands in our way. It's the AIRO program that helps support Native American students much like our families do at home. Indian people are very dependant on each other and the elders in the community. Here in the AIRO program, we are successful because we have a family unit."

At the convention, Bullshields explained, they made connections with other Native students immersed in similar research. Recruiters from graduate programs, federal agencies and research facilities approached them about masters-level and Ph.D. programs.

"Denean and Khena are developing into fine young scientists," said their advisor, Mike Babcock, MSU psychology professor. "Like many of the AIRO students, they are enthusiastic and hardworking. The recognition Denean and Khena received at the SACNAS meeting was well deserved."

Standing and Bullshields both work in Babcock's psychology laboratory. Their poster presentations concerned a novel approach the laboratory has developed to alter the expression of a protein important for memory and certain degenerative neurological disorders, including stroke and epilepsy. Standing presented research on the behavioral changes associated with suppression of a protein in the rodent hippocampus, a region of the brain important for memory. Bullshields' presentation focused on the biochemical changes that occur in the rodent hippocampus following manipulation of this protein.

Stewart works in Wes Lynch's psychology lab. Her poster presentation on obesity used a novel computerized approach measuring "implicit attitudes."

"This approach has been used by social psychologists to study various types of bias or prejudice, but this will be the first time that attitudes about obesity of American Indian youth themselves will have been examined," said Lynch, a psychology professor. "Mariam won this award because she was able to conceptualize the problem and explain it effectively to the judges."

The conference, now in its 31st year, weaves Native cultures with scientific learning. Last year, three other MSU AIRO students received similar accolades: Woodrow Star, a Hunkpapa Lakota/Arikara Indian from North Dakota, Scott Zander, a Gros Ventre (White Clay) Indian from Hays, and Lisa Sun Rhodes, a Northern Arapaho and Sioux Indian from Fort Peck and Culbertson.

Contact John Watts 994-5847