Red Cloud Students Attend the 40th-Annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society Conference

Reflection by Katie Montez, Science Teacher and Chair of Red Cloud’s Science Department

October 6, 2017


On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, six young, blooming Red Cloud scientists took part in the 40th-Annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Conference in Denver, CO. These young women—seniors Sadan Bettelyoun and Payton Sierra, and juniors Brianna Vocu, Charlee Brewer, and Isabella Lakota, and Tierra Baird—are each participants in the Native American Healthcare Scholars Program, a program created in partnership between the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine and Red Cloud to expose Native American students to careers in science and healthcare fields. They were selected for this program based on aptitude, recommendation, and exuberance.

During the 3-day conference, students attended 3-4 seminars daily, with discussions ranging from holistic medicine to emotional intelligence, indigenous diet to renewable energy, and native language computer coding to sustainable community dynamics. Students also participated in a career and college fair with nearly 400 companies and universities represented and perused 200 student research poster-presentations. 

This gathering is the largest of its kind and represents an increasingly important minority—indigenous scientists. Native peoples are greatly underrepresented in the STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—fields. The American Indian Science and Engineering Society not only creates opportunities for networking and support, it is also  a shining example of the potential and strength of the Native American scientist community. The young women who attended this year's conference are the PhDs, MDs, educators, and engineers of tomorrow, and they were given a chance to see their futures through the examples of their older, scientist peers during the conference weekend. In addition to the six current students at the conference, Red Cloud alums Dylan Tobacco ‘16, Randy Hughes ‘15, Savannah Jensen ‘14, Connor Richards ‘17, Tia Janis ‘17, Stephanie Emery ‘17, Gusti Terkildsen ‘15, Brennon Murdock ‘15, and Cherella Hughes ‘12 were also attendees of the conference.

Lastly, but certainly not least, senior Sadan Bettelyoun brought great honor to Red Cloud High School as a presenter of research at this year's conference. She performed water quality and microbiome research this year on nine of Pine Ridge's water supplies under the supervision of Creighton University and Oglala Lakota College professors. Not only was Sadan's work done almost entirely independently, but she performed research here, on Pine Ridge, and produced results that are relevant and important to her own community.” 



Here is what each student had to say about their experience at AISES:

Tierra Baird: “All Native students have the potential and intelligence to excel in STEM. Those who choose this path create not only opportunities for a lifetime, but increase the Native population in the STEM area. Native students who seek STEM have scholarships and internships that await them. There is a dire need of Native students in STEM since there is a small percentage of indigenous peoples in those areas. This generation of Indigenous students have knowledge and spirit to enter the world with hope.

AISES created an opportunity for me to meet sophisticated and educated indigenous people and students across North America… The most inspiring moment was meeting my new friend Nizohni. She is a college student who presented about her construction of a solar water heater to help those without electricity on the Navajo Reservation. After [she spoke] I went to talk to her about the presentation and starting a similar solar energy system for an elder in my community. She gladly offered to help. The fate of meeting Nizhoni and talking with her created a chance for me to have someone help me with my community service project. Her presentation inspired me to think about my community and their needs. The chance to listen and speak with professionals in STEM careers and majors is life changing.” 

Sadan Bettelyoun: “AISES is a very excellent learning experience and I am very grateful for being about to attend for two years and present for one year. The most inspiring moment for me was when I was presenting my poster...One of the judges was a conservation science engineer and she knew exactly what I was talking about and she knew how hard research is for environmental science. Presenting helps you ‘get out of your shell.’ I’ve always loved science and I want to pursue a career in science and, by going to AISES, I know what I want to do and what college I want to attend.”

Charlee Brewer: “It's important for Native students to get involved in sciences so we can learn more from a Native perspective. Attending the AISES conference, I got to meet new people with similar interests and who were once in the same place I am right now, and it's interesting to see what influenced their decisions to get them where they are now.”

Brianna Vocu: “It was amazing seeing all the Native professionals, and hearing their stories on how they made it. It is very important for Native students and people to get involved in science because, as I heard in a session at AISES, diverse groups work better together rather than having a group of the same race, gender, etc. It's also good to start getting Natives in science now, so that the coming generations feel inspired. I'm very grateful for all the companies and people who are giving students amazing opportunities so that we may succeed in life.”

Isabella Lakota: “To me attending AISES was a great opportunity and a wonderful experience that I will always remember. I was able to go and meet Natives who have been successful in the STEM field; it was reassuring to me that I can accomplish my dreams.”

Payton Sierra: “Attending the AISES conference meant reaching out of my comfort zone to talk to people—finding mentors to help me through the struggles I will face through the rest of high school and college. The stories I heard, and the hardship many of the AISES leaders had to endure and still were able to grow and become the people that they are, inspired me.” 


Photos Courtesy Katie Montez


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