RCHS students return from trip to AISES conference in Alaska

posted on November 27, 2012

by Christopher Ives

Earlier this month, nine Red Cloud High School students returned from a week-long excursion to the frigid northern state of Alaska. Science chair, Wendell Gehmen, led the trip that brought the students to the the 34th annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference, which was held in Anchorage, Alaska this year. AISES is a nationally recognized leader in the work to increase the representation of American Indians in the engineering, science, and technologies disciplines.

The trip, made possible by a grant from the Toyota Foundation, allowed the students to join other native youth from around the country, as well as industry professionals and educators to discuss this year’s central topic: adaptability. Many of the conference sessions highlighted the importance of the ability to adapt to changing environmental and economic conditions on reservations and in other communities.

In addition to witnessing presentations from leading native scientists and professionals, the students were able to tour the University of Alaska Anchorage campus and take part in workshops on resume building, interview skills, and tools for college admission process.

A highlight from the trip was a poster session at which RCHS students presented original research to attendees. Mickie Hudspeth-Belt ‘13, and Savannah Jensen ‘14 presented Hudspeth-Belt’s research on ‘Fluorescent Molecule Sensors with Cations’ which she developed during a Research Apprentice Program (RAP) at the University of South Dakota this summer. Not only were they among the first students to bring RAP research outside the state of South Dakota, but they also won 5th place at the AISES conference. Genriel Ribitsch ‘14 and Bianca Spotted Thunder ‘14, also presented posters at the conference.

Kristian Big Crow ‘14, found that attending the conference boosted his confidence around others. “The people I was meeting there blew my mind with what they knew how to do,” says Big Crow. “One of the speakers was from NASA. He was actually the guy who figured out how to get Apollo 13 back from the moon! I was surprised I was able to meet him, it was really interesting.”

“It’s about exposure,” says Gehmen. He supported student in attending last year’s conference in Minnesota and was pleased to be able to bring students to the conference again this year. He believes it is important for the students to engage in a larger environment to see what other native students are accomplishing. For Big Crow, it was the first time he had been out of the local area. “It opened many doors for me,” says Big Crow. “It showed me that there is a bigger world than where I am here.”

“What stood out to me was how many native kids are actually into science from all around the country” says Demcie Mesteth ‘15. He was impressed with the variety of programming and the presentations he was able to attend. “We learned about water rights, LGBTQ tolerance in the community, and how to incorporate native stories into science.”

“I learned how to present myself and be confident,” Mesteth commented. Having attended this program, Mesteth looks forward more opportunities to learn both inside, and outside, the classroom. He will be applying to RAP at USD this January, as well as a summer internship at Georgetown University. He plans to attend college to study neurology after graduation.

While the trip was full of education and professional growth, the team, which also included Santianna Yellow Horse '15, Jennifer Brave Heart '14, and Kirkland Ross '14, found enough time to visit a nearby glacier and see some of the local sights. Gehmen is already looking forward to next years AISES conference to be held in Denver, Colorado. While it not as exotic as a trip to Alaska, Gehmen says that the shorter distance will also make it easier to get more students involved.


For more pictures from the trip click HERE.