Science Scholars Program Leads Red Cloud Graduates to Pursue Degrees in Health and Medicine

posted June 7, 2017

For five of Red Cloud Indian School’s newest graduates, the last year has been filled with opportunities to explore the world of science. Each student was selected to participate in the Native American Healthcare Scholars Program (NAHSP)—an initiative at the University of South Dakota (USD) that offers support and mentoring to Native students interested in careers in science and medicine. Through their last year in high school, these scholars had the chance to visit laboratories, connect with professional researchers, and attend a major conference for Native scientists from across the country. 

And these college-bound alumni say all of those opportunities helped to prepare them for success in the next phase of their education: studying health and science at the next level.

“It helped me explore majors that I didn’t even know existed,” said Atiana Janis ‘17, a Native American Healthcare Scholar who just graduated from Red Cloud. The NAHSP experience, she said, opened her eyes to new career possibilities—and ways to combine her love for helping people with her talent in science. In the fall, Atiana will begin pursuing her degree in social work at USD.

Today, Native Americans make up less than one percent of those earning advanced degrees in the sciences, according to a National Science Foundation study. To close that gap, Red Cloud launched a major effort several years ago to offer more students of all ages more advanced learning opportunities in the STEM fields—science, technology, education, and math. And partnering with USD’s Healthcare Scholars program, says science teacher and department chair Katie Montez, has helped Red Cloud bring innovative, science-based experiences to talented high school students. 

“The aim was to identify a group of both juniors and seniors who have excellent grades in math and science, and who are excellent students overall, and introduce a lot of new and unique opportunities to them,” said Montez. “Through this program, we were not only able to take our students to visit and experience USD, but also to the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s national conference, to Kansas City to see the medical center at Kansas University, and much more. It gave us the resources to do lots of exploration—and our students have benefitted in so many ways.”

Students participating in NAHSP have the chance to be mentored by professional scientists at USD, and to connect with current USD students majoring in the sciences. During her trip to USD’s campus, Atiana was thrilled to see the inner workings of a professional lab—and to meet the scientists directing research there.

“We talked to three professors, and I was really grateful that they took the time to come talk to us,” she said.

Healthcare Scholars can also take advantage of science-based internships at USD. Connor Richards ’17 spent last summer working alongside researchers focusing on the creation of micro-particles. He will continue to pursue his passion for the sciences in college this fall.  

“I’ll attend Brown University and work in research labs during the school year and in the summer,” he said. “I plan to study physics, chemistry, and math. They are all interconnected—one subject is the foundation and application of another. It all makes sense to me and it’s really interesting once you dive further into it.”

And new Red Cloud graduate Stephanie Emery ’15 spent last summer working in a biology lab at USD, examining at the pathology of streptococcal infections. In the fall, as part of the program, Stephanie and her fellow Healthcare Scholars had the chance to travel to Minneapolis to attend the national conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). She, Connor, and another Red Cloud senior, Marilyn Frank ‘17, presented their own original research during the conference—and the experience was powerful for all of them.

“Attending the AISES conference meant so much to me because it gave me insight into different STEM fields and allowed me to see just how many different careers in the field there actually are,” Stephanie said. “Being from the reservation makes it difficult to see myself doing great things, so having the opportunity to present at a national conference made me realize that I am not closed off to the world. Having the chance to see so many successful Native Americans in that particular area really motivated me to work harder to achieve my goals.”

Congratulations to the members of Red Cloud’s Class of 2017 who took part in the Native American Healthcare Scholars Program this year!

  • Marilyn Joy Frank will attend Stanford University and major in operational and environmental engineering.
  • Stevie Cross Dog will become a member of the National Guard this fall, and attend the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in the spring of 2018 to study mechanical engineering.
  • Stephanie Emery will attend the University of South Dakota and major in medical laboratory sciences.
  • Atiana Janis will attend the University of South Dakota to study social work.
  • Connor Richards will attend Brown University to study chemistry, math, and physics.

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School


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