Forest Fires Become Learning Opportunity for Native American Teenagers Through Colorado State University STEM Program

Forest Fires Become Learning Opportunity for Native American Teenagers Through Colorado State University STEM Program

25 July 2012

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USA — Note to Reporters: Reporters and photographers are welcome to interview and photograph students while studying stream ecology and fire science at Pingree Park. The stream ecology workshop begins at 1 p.m. and the visit to fire sites, including the High Park fire, beings at 3 p.m. at Pingree Park on Monday, July 30. Students also will build small solar-powered cars and race them at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, August 3, on the LSC plaza, weather permitting. RSVPs from reporters for either day are required.

FORT COLLINS – How can the tragedy of a forest fire turn on teenagers’ interest in seeking a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematical fields? Colorado State University’s Native American Cultural Center hopes to find a silver lining by teaching science to Native American youth from Colorado through the High Park fire and the older Hourglass fire areas near the university’s Pingree Park mountain campus.

The Native American STEM Institute, held the week of July 29, will focus on STEM careers in natural resources and renewable energy. The week includes several hands-on days at Pingree Park donning rubber boots and getting into a stream to study water ecology, looking at areas burned by forest fires to learn about fire science, learning compass orienteering skills and using technology such as GIS and GPS systems.

“This is an important opportunity for students to get excited about STEM careers,” said Ty Smith, director of the Native American Cultural Center on CSU’s campus. “My office embraces the responsibilities of this state’s only land grant institution by providing an experience for Native youth so they have the necessary tools to access higher education.”

The last days of the camp, which are back on main campus, investigate the fun of physics and solar power, and participants will build and race mini solar-powered cars as a final project.

About 30 Native American students in the seventh through tenth grades from northern New Mexico, Fort Collins and Denver will participate. In addition to learning about scientific careers, the students also will be researching how their own tribes are using their natural resources and possibly implementing renewable energy projects on reservations. The students identify with a wide mix of tribes from across the nation.

“It’s important for Native students to be involved in STEM programs because we are underrepresented in STEM careers and fields of study,” said Rose McGuire, manager of the Denver Public Schools Indian Education Program, a partner in the project. “The hands-on experiences offered by this program give them the opportunity to be exposed to science, technology, engineering and math – which is where the jobs are.”

The week-long program also is in partnership with the university’s Women and Minorities in Engineering Program and is funded by a $70,000 grant through the National Academy of Engineering.

Colorado State’s Native American Cultural Center also supports educational programs for and efforts of Native American students through the Native American Legacy Award, which reduces tuition for non-resident students who are citizens of tribes that have a historical legacy of occupation in Colorado. For more information about that program, visit


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