Red Cloud Junior, Inspired by Staff and Alumni, Fills Summer with STEM Learning Opportunities

posted May 5, 2015

With a calm demeanor and focused eyes, Bobby walks down the hallways of Red Cloud Indian School to his locker to grab some homework before heading to the skate park. Bobby, despite his relaxed attitude, is busily planning his summer and his future between homework, after-school programming, an active social and community life.

“This summer I’ll be returning to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington D.C. to continue my internship there with Dr. Codrin Lungu,” says Bobby stopping at his locker. “I’ll be working on genetic analysis and database construction to support science around cures for Parkinson's disease—I’m looking forward to going back and working on the project, but I’ll be missing two weeks of the ten week program this year.”

With the support of his Literature teacher, Dominique Fenton, an AmeriCrops member and teacher at Red Cloud, Bobby earned a spot on the extremely selective, Young Global Scholars Summit at Yale University.

“I’ll be in the science, policy and innovation session,” he says. “The idea is to work in teams to create and present a new solution to a major challenge in society. So, I had to get permission to take two weeks off at NIH to attend the Yale summit, but it all worked out.”

The program provides attendees with cutting edge experience in the sciences with a focus on policy and presenting complex ideas to businesses, politicians, and major audiences. Bobby will also learn from and work with industry leaders in environmental and health sciences, international nonprofits and businesses and spend time touring and utilizing the Yale campus.

Bobby says that he hopes to leverage his education at Red Cloud Indian School and the summer opportunities he has earned to attend Dartmouth, Yale or Stanford to study experimental psychology. He says his overall goal is to return to the reservation with a PhD to help combat issues on the reservations such as alcoholism and suicide. For Bobby, his education is the ticket to fulfilling his dreams and helping his people.

“I will be a senior next year and I want to carry on the message of what it means to be yourself, pursue your goals, and using your education to achieve your goals,” says Bobby. “I think that could be powerful to hear coming from a senior talking to younger students.” 

To spread his message, Bobby is also working with the nonprofit Lakota Children’s Enrichment to continue a program he developed with them, which brings inspirational community members to schools to speak with students about the value of education.

For his work, he was recognized by the Aspen Institute's Center for Native American Youth and named a Youth Ambassador. “I hope this recognition will help me earn more grants to continue the work,” says Bobby with a humble smile.

While it is clear that Bobby’s determination and passion has led to a growing list of achievements at a young age, he is quick to point out the teachers and classmates that inspired and continue to support him.

Bobby says that TJ Lynch, former Red Cloud AmeriCrops member, business manager and currently Director of Technology, was the very first person he remembers telling him, ‘You have the potential to do great things.’ 

“That was at a young age, maybe fourth grade,” says Bobby. “Having that sort of support from the school system was really nice—being told that you can do anything. It’s not really uncommon at the school, and that’s something that makes Red Cloud special. And, I also have a supportive family behind me.”

It was three years ago, however, that one of his older classmates set him on an exciting path toward the sciences and working for his community.

“I always like to thank alumna Savannah Jensen—she just graduated last year. When I was a freshman, she was a junior and she asked me to work on a project with her. We were looking at the connection of ground radiation levels and Lakota prayer,” says Bobby. “That introduced me to the science teachers at the school and got me thinking about extracurriculars. It really opened my eyes to learning beyond school. She set me on a good path.”

Savannah and Bobby went on to place at local and national science fairs, including an invitation to the Intel International Science Fair for their truly unique work at the intersections of science and culture.

“I’d also like to thank my parents CeCe Big Crow and Bob Pourier, my grandmother Leatrice Big Crow, and former teachers Wendell Gehman and Brad Held,” says Bobby. “And all of my current teachers both in and out of the classroom as well.”

With his summer full of travel and education opportunities, Bobby remains focused and calm with his sights set on his bright future.