But for the last three summers, Spear has indulged her passion at the Montana Apprenticeship Program, a six-week summer science enrichment camp at Montana State University that provides hands-on research experience to students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.
As a result, Spear will take three years of experience in research and working with top scientists at MSU to the Ivy League when she enrolls as a human biology major this fall at Dartmouth College with eventual plans to attend medical school.
"MAP made me love science," said Spear, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe who this summer worked with scientists at the MSU Center for Biofilm Engineering to build a fluorescent protein library for imaging. She said the MAP experience gave her such a leg-up in science that she completed every science course offered at Lame Deer High School and took classes at Dull Knife Community College.
Spear is one of 21 students from throughout Montana who recently completed the 2005 MSU MAP program. The students worked with mentor professors on projects that ranged from studying an acidophilic virus found in Yellowstone National Park to developing a glue to affix bacteria to glass slides.
MAP began with three students in 1980 and is MSU's longest-running minority enrichment program, with more than 350 high school participants in 25 years, according to John Watts, director of MSU's AIRO program, which oversees the MAP program.
"A large percent, 80 percent, of those (MAP) graduates have gone on to college," Watts said. "We've had students who have gone on to Ph.D. programs, become doctors and members of tribal health boards. MAP students are definitely making a difference back home on their reservations and acting as role models."
Watts said the program definitely helps prepare students for the future by introducing them to college while they are still in high school.
"MAP gives them the dream of college," Watts said.
In addition to studying, MAP students' days are packed with work and play and such opportunities as a private seminar taught by organizational guru Stephen Covey.
But while students admit to a variety of activities and a wealth of good times, Taylor Lipscomb, a member of the Salish tribe from St. Ignatius, said the opportunities to do actual research became his favorite part of his MAP summer.
"I loved the labs," said Lipscomb, who will major in microbiology at the University of Hawaii in Manoa in the fall with eventual plans to become a veterinarian. "I think I was ready to go to college before I came, but I definitely feel more enlightened about how college works. I enjoyed it all. This was definitely not a wasted summer."
For students such as Maria Russell, a junior at Lame Deer High School, the MAP program may have been life changing.
"I thought I wanted to be a nurse, maybe, before this summer," said Russell, a first-year MAP student who will be a junior at Lame Deer High School. Russell worked with noted MSU chemistry professor Cynthia McClure in synthesizing a new antibiotic. By the end of the six weeks, Russell said she is considering a career in organic chemistry.
"Cynthia was really inspiring to me," Russell said. "I definitely want to come back next summer."
Students are also paid $6.50 an hour to conduct research. Mike Doyle, a member of the Crow Tribe from Hardin, said the MAP opportunity was "definitely the best summer job I've ever had."
"There is an awesome amount of stuff you learn," said Doyle, who is an incoming MSU freshman. His favorite part of the MAP program was working with mentor Christine Foreman, an MSU researcher in Antarctica, experimenting with ways to determine the amount of live and dead bacteria in environmental samples. Foreman, in turn, calls Doyle "a stellar student" who was enthusiastic about his work.
Spear said the opportunity to earn money while gaining research experience and broadening a knowledge base can't be underestimated.
"It's difficult to find good paying jobs on the reservation," Spear said, adding that last summer she used part of her MAP summer earnings to help her family buy a car. "This year it's going to buy my airplane ticket back to Dartmouth."
Ben Klayman, a graduate student at MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering said his staff was so impressed with Spear and her work ethic when she worked for them with last summer's MAP program that they requested that she work for them again this summer. Earlier in the spring, three CBE staffers traveled to Lame Deer to watch and support Spear as she graduated from high school, which Klayman said was "a really great experience. She truly stands out."
"The work Cinnamon was doing for us was way beyond the high school level and even beyond what the average college undergraduate student would do in a research lab," Klayman said. "Not only was she doing the work but showing competency and comprehension. She was a pleasure to work with."
Spear said that she was proud that students back home are increasingly taking advantage of MAP's benefits. "When I first started in MAP, there were three students from my reservation," she said. "This year there were seven.
"To come here and learn, have a lot of fun and even get paid, that's really a good thing for us," she said.
Contact: John Watts (406) 994-5847