Published: Jan. 20, 2022

The Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands (ESIL) Certificate Program has joined the Native Food, Energy and Water Systems (FEWS) Alliance with the shared vision to build a highly skilled Native American Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, and to address insufficient access to food, energy and water in Indigenous communities. The Native FEWS Alliance strives to become a transformative force in education, bringing into being innovative pathways to STEM careers that engage local communities and are based on Indigenous ways of living and learning.

To reach their goals, the Native FEWS Alliance, bolstered by a 7-million-dollar National Science Foundation INCLUDES grant, will leverage the strength and potential of each partnering program and expanding the Alliance’s collective capacity with a tight network of exchanges and collaborations.

As a partner in this Alliance, the ESIL Program will develop a nation-wide certificate program preparing students for liaison work between tribal and non-tribal environmental agencies. In so doing, the ESIL Certificate will facilitate Indigenous student engagement in STEM; explore innovative thinking and pathway development for students to explore cultural identity within STEM education; and clarify pathways for the inclusion of cultural identity and representation within STEM careers.

Co-director Timberley Roane (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina), Associate Professor in Integrative Biology, shares that “through its partnerships with tribal, US federal, and state agencies, and STEM programming across the University, one of the goals of the Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands Certificate is to provide a reciprocal space where Indigenous STEM identities are valued, respected, and learned from. The Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands Certificate is honored to work with the Indigenous programs and agencies in the Native FEWS Alliance and in support of Indigenous students and their communities.”

Civil Engineering Professor David Mays expressed, “It is an honor and a challenge to be a founding member of the Native FEWS Alliance. An honor, because we have been invited to work with so many Indigenous scholars from so many colleges and universities around the country. A challenge, because we are being called to make CU Denver (and other schools) into a student-ready college, where we strive to make our college work for our students, rather than vice-versa.”

Among the partners in the Native FEWS Alliance are the University of California Berkley as the lead, the University of Arizona as a collaborating lead, and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium will operate as the backbone of the Alliance. Other Alliance partners that provide critical pathways to success include Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), community college and undergraduate, graduate, faculty career, postdoctoral, FEWS career, community partnerships and Indigenous knowledge, pre-college programs, and Indigenous data sovereignty.

“The goal of the Alliance is to work within our own systems . . .  and very important, the broader research and education communities to make sure that our sovereign nations have the workforce, entrepreneurs, and innovators we will need to sustain our lands, water, food, and place for generations to come,” said Carrie Billy, American Indian Higher Education Consortium President and Native FEWS Alliance co-principal investigator.

The Alliance will develop curricula, offer workshops, develop mentoring guides, adapt, and adopt best practices and share results through its open platform to allow small institutions and non-profit organizations across the country easy access to Native FEWS teaching, learning, and mentoring materials. These curricula and interventions will be designed to recruit, retain, and graduate Indigenous students in higher education and careers in FEWS and related STEM fields as well as educate non-Natives in how to build ethical partnerships with tribes. With the interventions described, the Alliance hopes to achieve at least a 20% increase average Alliance-wide in the number of Native American students who graduate from our institutions of higher education at all levels during the grant period.