2 Oct 2015

Paddling Together in Shared Waters: Northwest Indian College and Western Washington University Collaborate on New 5-Year $1.65 Million Grant

Northwest Indian College (NWIC) and Western Washington University have been awarded a five-year, $1.65 million, grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) designed to boost the number of Native American students making the transition to graduate school in the geosciences and to provide a more direct bridge between NWIC and Western’s Huxley College of the Environment.

“Given the proximity of the two schools, and the shared geography of Bellingham Bay and the Salish Sea Basin, we see a partnership which creates pathways for students from NWIC to enter Western as an exciting opportunity to create advancement for Native American students in the geosciences,” said Dr. Emma S. Norman, chair of the Native Environmental Science Department at NWIC and a Huxley College alumna. “The proximity of the partner institutions, and the shared waters, provides a very important context for collaboration purposes.”

Key pieces of the action plan include hiring of additional geoscience faculty at both NWIC and Western, development of a new organic chemistry curriculum at NWIC, new mentorship opportunities, development of a shared research and internship agenda between the two schools that will provide pathways for student engagement, and development of a shared Salish Sea Seminar Series that will rotate between the two schools.

Dr. John Rybczyk, chair of Huxley College’s Environmental Sciences Department, said the key piece to the project is that it will strengthen the partnership between the two schools in new and exciting ways. “NWIC already has a successful four-year degree program in Native Environmental Science, along with other resources such as the Salish Sea Research Center, directed by Marco Hatch. Here at Western, we have faculty with a strong record of research and graduate student mentorship. Given the proximity of our institutions and a shared sense of place and commitment to environmental studies, this partnership is the perfect way to synergize the strengths of both of our programs.”

Dr. Marco Hatch, a member of the Samish Indian Nation and co-principal investigator on the grant, is extremely excited to see leaders at NWIC and Western come together through this grant to support Indigenous students on their educational journey. “The impact of this collaboration will be felt all throughout Native homelands as the leaders we are training work on real solutions that are culturally appropriate and scientifically valid. NWIC students are involved in engaged transformative research through the Salish Sea Research Center bringing community and research together in new ways. As NWIC students transition to Western, I look forward to seeing the research at Western take on new meaning and connection to Indigenous communities.”

Dr. Justin Guillory, President of the Northwest Indian College, said he is excited about the new educational pathways the grant will open for NWIC students. “With the generous support from the National Science Foundation, this project not only represents the power of institutional collaboration, but the opportunity to develop the next generation of Native scientists who honor and practice this teaching passed on by our elders: by taking care of the environment, we are taking care of ourselves.”

Western Washington University’s President, Bruce Shepard, echoed Guillory’s thoughts. “Western is proud to partner with Northwest Indian College on expanding and strengthening this pathway for Native American students into graduate studies in the environmental sciences.  I commend the faculty and staff at NWIC and Huxley College for their efforts to make this possible, and the longstanding relationships of mutual respect and cooperation on which this opportunity is founded.”

Jill Karsten, Education and Diversity program director for the NSF Geosciences Directorate, said the grant will allow the collaboration between the two schools to expand in new and meaningful ways and is an example of how the NSF seeks to maximize the impact of every federal dollar spent on STEM research and education. “Together, they will be pursuing a shared vision for the future that is culturally sensitive, highly supportive of the Native American students who will be engaged, mutually beneficial for the participating non-Native students and faculty, and creative in its leveraging of the respective strengths of the two institutions.”

Jody Chase, program director for the NSF Education and Human Resources Directorate and the Tribal Colleges and University Program (TCUP), noted that the opportunity to fund two institutions working together in such an important field of study is an example of how NSF seeks to maximize the impact of every federal dollar spent on STEM research and education. “This award involves two parts of NSF – the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program and the Directorate for Geosciences – jointly supporting collaborations among institutions of higher education. Furthermore, this project’s inclusion of a tribal college helps fulfil the NSF’s goal of attracting students from traditionally underserved populations to STEM fields, and helping them graduate. That sort of participation is healthy for science and good for the Nation.”

For more information about the collaborative project between NWIC and Western, contact Dr. Emma S. Norman at (360) 392-4309, enorman@nwic.edu, Dr. Marco Hatch at (360) 594-4082, marcoh@nwic.edu, or Dr. John Rybczyk at (360) 650-2081, john.rybczyk@wwu.edu.

Visit the following websites to learn more about NWIC’s Native Environmental Science program and Huxley College’s Environmental Sciences program.

Northwest Indian College appreciates the support of the National Science Foundation for this project, which has been funded through NSF grant number 1540675. For more information about the grant award, visit the National Science Foundation grant award website.