Montana State University

MSU math and science initiative receives $312,000 from Toyota USA Foundation

July 8, 2008 -- MSU News Service

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Bozeman -- The Toyota USA Foundation has awarded $312,000 to Montana State University's College of Engineering to support Teaching Engineering Applications in Math and Science (TEAMS), an innovative program designed to enhance teaching of K-12 math and science in and around Montana's Native American communities.

Through Teams, MSU will partner with one middle school on each of Montana's seven Native American reservations and one middle school bordering each. Teachers in those schools will receive assistance incorporating engineering principles into their math and science curriculums.

"TEAMS is unique because it combines an academic curriculum with a people-building curriculum," said Sheree Watson, program director for MSU's Designing Our Community, a program to recruit and retain Native American students in engineering. "TEAMS helps teachers move from teaching math and science concepts to teaching students how they can apply them to improve the quality of life for themselves, their families and their communities, by building better roads, safer drinking water systems, or sturdier houses."

Engineering is not a common career choice for Native Americans because few learn about engineering in school, Watson said. MSU's Designing Our Community program seeks to remedy that by working with Montana's tribal colleges and reservation public schools to find students with an interest in math and science and a desire for a good job.

"Students and teachers better understand math and science concepts when they use engineering applications. They also learn about what engineers do, about engineering career options, and how to best prepare for an engineering career," Watson said "All great programs need great financial partners and we are proud that the Toyota USA Foundation is joining us as we prepare students to thrive in a global economy, especially if they choose to live in Montana."

"The Toyota USA Foundation is proud to support the TEAMS program at MSU," said Patricia Pineda, group vice president, National Philanthropy and the Toyota USA Foundation. "Education has always been a priority for us, particularly math and science, which are increasingly becoming vital drivers of our economy. We are thrilled to be a part of MSU's innovative programs that are reaching diverse communities and inspiring the next generation of engineers."

Serving Montana's rural Native American populations is critical to MSU as the state's only land grant institution. Montana's Native American population is especially at risk for economic hardships. More than half of Montana's Native American students who enter kindergarten fail to graduate high school and only 12 percent of Native Americans living on reservations have secondary education degrees. Native American students comprise less than one percent of engineering graduates in the United States, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

MSU has been working hard to change those statistics. In 2008, MSU's College of Engineering graduated a record number of Native American students, thanks largely to the Designing Our Community program, which started in 2003 with a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The nine students who earned degrees will likely place MSU among the top five universities nationally for Native American engineering graduates.

The Toyota USA Foundation is a $100 million charitable endowment created to support education programs serving kindergarten through 12th-grade students and their teachers in the United States, with an emphasis on mathematics, science and environmental science. For additional information about the Toyota USA Foundation, visit www.toyota.com/foundation.

For related stories see:

"Program powers record number of American Indian engineering grads," May 9, 2008, http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=5912

"MSU program brings Native Americans into school leadership roles," Jan. 31, 2008, http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=5552

"MSU receives $6.5 million grant for health research partnerships with Montana tribes," Nov. 16, 2007, http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=5363

Contact: Traci Weller, director of corporate and foundation relations, MSU Foundation, (406) 994-2522 or tweller@montana.edu.