Students from Nespelem and WSU review what they
found during a scavenger hunt during a recent field
trip at the WSU Spokane campus. (Doug Nadvornick
photos)
SPOKANE, Wash. – Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are laying the groundwork for what they hope will someday be a steady stream of math and science students from the Colville Confederated Tribes.
 
For the last five years, WSU and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have sponsored the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) outreach program, “Pumping Up the Math and Science Pipeline.” The Colville Confederated Tribes is one of the program’s contributors.
 
Igniting interest at a young age
 
“We’re trying to get students interested in math and science careers at a young age,” said Kathleen Parker, ARS program assistant based at WSU Pullman. “If we wait to get to them in high school, that’s too late.”
 
“It is critical to the future competitiveness of our nation that we encourage interest in STEM disciplines among our youth,” said David Weller, program director and ARS research leader.
 
Each month, WSU professors, students and ARS scientists visit students at the school in Nespelem, on the Colville Indian Reservation in northeast Washington. They teach math- and science-related lessons to fifth- through eighth-graders.
 
WSU student mentors meet youths
 
WSU intercultural communications students
hold up name signs to guide the Nespelem
students they mentored.
In April, for the first time, about 50 students from Nespelem returned the visit, though not to Pullman because it would have been an almost 200-mile trip each way. Instead, they met a group of WSU intercultural communications students at the WSU Spokane campus.
 
About a month earlier, the two sets of students had been paired up and began exchanging letters. The WSU students were organized through the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE).
 
“Our (Nespelem) students were thrilled to learn about the interests and challenges of the college students,” wrote reading and writing teacher Sheri Edwards on her school blog.
 
After a pizza lunch, the paired-up students spent the afternoon playing games and doing science experiments.
 
“When we were in the science project room, her excitement radiated from her eyes,” said WSU student Nicole Hicks, who mentored a fifth-grade girl. “She seemed to be interested in forensics. Just like me at that age.”
 
Stretching, persevering encouraged
 
That’s good news to Robbie Paul, a Nez Perce who directs Native American Health Sciences at the WSU College of Nursing. She encouraged the Nespelem children to consider, when they get older, leaving the comfort zone of their reservation to go to college.
 
“I flunked out of college twice,” Paul told them. “But my father told me never to give up. He encouraged me. And so I encourage you. Stay in school. We need you.”
 
Organizers of the pipeline program hope that message carries more clout when it’s delivered by WSU students such as Nicole Hicks.
 
“After we got to sit in the auditorium for a few minutes, I told her many stories about myself when I was her age,” said Hicks about the girl she mentored. “That started to get her to talk because she realized we were much alike. I hope she sees me as someone she could be down the road.”
 
The WSU/ARS pipeline program offers a broad spectrum of STEM activities, and participation by the CCE added an exciting new dimension to the program. The center’s Vernette Doty said it will collect feedback about the Spokane field trip to improve its impact in the future.