Montana State University

Native American high schoolers learn about MSU through science and film

July 2, 2008 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service

Natural History Filmmaking graduate student Jaime Jelenchick, clockwise from top left, watches video with Nikki Senapati, Michelle McKay and Mikayla Frasier after a trip to the Fish Technology Center in Bozeman. (MSU Photo by Kelly Gorham)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- In an editing lab at Montana State University, recent high school graduate Martina Wilson was worried about her production schedule.

The 19-year-old graduate of Wolf Point High School, who will attend MSU this fall, didn't think her team would have time to finish their three-minute film about frogs and salamanders before the screening in two days.

"It takes a long time," Wilson said while her teammates clicked their way through video editing software on a nearby computer. "I understand now why it takes a year for the big Hollywood movies to come out."

Wilson is one of 20 Native American high school students from Montana and across the country who are on campus for the Montana Apprenticeship Program (MAP), a six-week camp designed to show them what it's like to work in science and math at a university level.

MAP is part of the American Indiana Research Opportunities program and has been bringing Native American and minority students to campus for more than 20 years.

"It's another way of getting students interested in science and math," said MAP coordinator Scott Zander. "It's another component instead of sitting inside and just doing bookwork and math work."

In addition to spending time in the classroom and in labs across campus, the students also spent a week learning about nature filmmaking, courtesy of graduate students in the Natural History Filmmaking program and MSU's TerraPod project.

TerraPod encourages students ages 10 to 18 to create science-related video podcasts - think of them like blogs in video form, with periodic updates no longer than about 3 minutes each. The finished products are uploaded to TerraPod's Web site, which also provides filmmaking tips, links to science sites and copyright-free music and graphics for students to use in their films.

"They get what it means to make a film and how to communicate with film," said Charles Dye, a graduate student the natural history Filmmaking program who was helping the MAP students create their videos.

Filmmakers must know their subjects very well before they can make an effective film, Dye said. In that way, the filmmaking project will help the MAP students learn even more about their films' topics.

"We're taking skills for communicating science and given them to these students who are here studying hard science," he said.

The students working in the lab chose the topics for their films and shot footage earlier in the week at the Fish Technology Center near Bozeman. They used computers to edit the scenes and add text, music and other special effects designed to wow the rest of the MAP students when they screen the films Saturday night.

Melanie Grant, 16, was working with her teammates on a parody of "The Crocodile Hunter," complete with an over-the-top Australian-accented host.

Grant, a senior at Browning High School, also attended MAP last year. She said she was excited to return to MSU for a second year with MAP, which has provided her with a valuable glimpse into the kind of science work done at the university level.

"I actually learn a lot working in the labs with a mentor," she said. "I think it's a good experience, a hands-on preview of what goes on in the labs."

For related stories see:

"MSU program brings Native Americans into school leadership roles," Jan. 31, 2008,

"Program powers record number of American Indian engineering grads," May 9, 2008,

"MSU receives $6.5 million grant for health research partnerships with Montana tribes," Nov. 16, 2007,

"MSU science and nature film site wins Webby," May 25, 2007,

"MSU filmmaking program starting to prove its point," Oct. 20, 2003,

Contact: John Watts, American Indian Research Opportunities director, at (406) 994-5567 or