NWIC Port Gamble science lab to open with a celebration

The new lab opens doors to students at the site pursuing science degrees

Northwest Indian College Biology 101 students Sandra Horton, left, and Madison Sullivan in the new laboratory at NWIC’s Port Gamble S’Klallam site. They are studying relationships of form and function in various Northwest fishes, including the Pacific Mackerel.
Northwest Indian College Biology 101 students Sandra Horton, left, and Madison Sullivan in the new laboratory at NWIC’s Port Gamble S’Klallam site. They are studying relationships of form and function in various Northwest fishes, including the Pacific Mackerel.

A grand opening celebration for the new Northwest Indian College (NWIC) Port Gamble S’Klallam science laboratory classroom will be held from 10 a.m. until noon on Dec. 6. The lab is located in the Tribe’s House of Knowledge and Education Center.

The event is free and open to the public, and will include an opening ceremony and blessing of the lab by Gene Jones, a S’Klallam elder, followed by an interactive sharing of biology lab student projects and complimentary coffee and pastries.

The new lab, which is outfitted with $30,000 worth of furniture and equipment, opens doors to students at the site interested in science classes that require lab work.

“The new lab will be great for me because I will not have to leave my community to continue on to achieve my Bachelor of Science degree in Native Environmental Science,” said Shyia Fulton, a first-year NWIC Native Environmental Science student and NWIC employee. “I have three young children and it would be difficult for me to take classes out of town.”

Because Port Gamble S’Klallam students can take lab classes at the site, they have the opportunity to graduate with an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree in Native Environmental Science. NWIC also wants to offer its bachelor’s in Native Environmental Science at the site in the near future.

“This laboratory enables NWIC at Port Gamble to offer the four-year environmental science degree and opens the door for other four-year native environmental science degrees to come,” NWIC science instructor Joyce McClain said.

With the new lab, NWIC students have the opportunity to use instruments and learn techniques routinely employed by environmental scientists, and by government and private organizations, she said. With the experience they will gain, graduates will be able to fill the immediate need for tribal environmental technicians.

The classes will also benefit Tribal Natural Resources and Fisheries employees and tribal fisherman wanting to build on their skills, said Gina Corpuz, instructional manager at the Port Gamble S’Klallam site.

Corpuz said the degree is an important part of the curriculum for the site because Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal members are the original stewards of Gamble Bay. 

“Everything that impacts their water, forests and land, changes the quality of life for their tribal community and all forms of life dependent on clean air and water,” she said. “NWIC students who choose Native Environmental Science as their program of study are also choosing to be part of the solution to the global environmental crisis.”

Studies have proven that when students engage in active, collaborative learning projects and acquire skills that they can apply to real work situations, they are more persistent in achieving their educational goals, Corpuz said.
The degree in Native Environmental Science is the first bachelor’s degree NWIC has offered, and that’s intentional, said Joel Green, NWIC science director. 

“It is a high priority for the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe and other Pacific Northwest tribes to have tribal members with both traditional cultural knowledge and values and also the scientific knowledge and skills to be able to serve their tribes as fisheries biologists, water quality specialists, and other environmental scientists,” Green said.

The college was able to install the new laboratory classroom thanks to a generous grant from the US Department of Defense. On January 21, 2011, Northwest Indian College was awarded a grant for $353,135 by the DOD for purchase of science equipment and supplies.

The DOD’s grant program provides funds to tribal colleges across the country, with the intention of increasing the number of tribal college students with science degrees. 

NWIC, which is headquartered on the Lummi Indian Reservation near Bellingham, has six extended campus sites throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the Port Gamble S’Klallam site, NWIC’s Nez Perce sites in Idaho also received new lab equipment with the DOD grant.