By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is one of the first tribes in the country to start an AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) Chapter. Along with the Shkodedeajek Chapter of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (Okla.), the EBCI Chapter was recently approved by AISES marking the first two tribal chapters ever.
Sarah Echohawk, AISES chief executive officer, said in a statement, “The AISES family is so excited to welcome these two new tribal chapters. Through the establishment of tribal chapters, AISES can connect more directly with tribal communities to support them in STEM education and workforce development. We look forward to seeing more tribal communities bringing AISES directly into their communities by establishing tribal chapters.”
These new tribal chapters join 190 college and university chapters and 20 professional chapters nationwide. Information from AISES states that the new tribal chapter network has four priorities including (1) build awareness and increase retention in K-12 STEM; (2) increase access to and success in STEM higher education; (3) provide leadership and promote changes to improve professional opportunities in STEM; and, (4) identify and leverage strategic partnerships in STEM.”
“The chapter will bridge the gap between the educational system and EBCI tribal divisions that are STEM-based to build relationships, create internships, support projects, and expose our youth to the needs of our Tribe to strengthen the STEM workforce development,” said Alicia Mitchell, a Cherokee Nation citizen who is the AISES Board vice chair. “The EBCI Tribal Chapter being formed is monumental in the movement towards building the relationship between tribes and AISES. The EBCI community is vastly growing and is a prime example of why our students need the early exposure to STEM in order to increase their chances of selecting a career that will strengthen the future of their tribal communities.”
Mitchell has accepted a position with AISES as senior development officer. She received the AISES Tribal Partner Service Award in 2016, joined their Board of Directors in 2017, and was elected as vice chair the same year. “In this new role, I will be responsible for identifying funding resources, conducting research and writing grants and proposals, soliciting major gifts, seeking event and program sponsorships, and aiding in coordinating special events. I am joining the AISES family after six years of supporting the organization through the work I have done in Cherokee with the Ray Kinsland Leadership Institute, the students in the Jones-Bowman Leadership Award Program, and the grants that have come through the Qualla Education Collaborative at Cherokee Central Schools.”
She spoke of the importance of AISES and the local tribal chapters, “It is critical that tribal communities partner with national organizations such as AISES to provide a space for our students while they work towards obtaining STEM careers. With the ever-changing infrastructure of tribal communities, there is a dire need and sense of urgency for the upcoming generation to fill these STEM positions in order to protect tribal assets.”
Mitchell praised the EBCI’s work with AISES and commented, “The EBCI has become a model across Indian Country for how they have supported STEM. Likewise, we are the first tribal community to fully host their Leadership Summit in their 42-year history. AISES has always had a strong relationship with corporate partners, but there has been a lack of support in Indian Country which is strange because that is the population they are supporting. It was time they strengthened the relationships with tribes, and the EBCI stepped up in a huge way.”
EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Joey Owle, an EBCI tribal member and general member of the EBCI AISES Chapter, said, “The Chapter represents the culmination of many tribal members being directly impacted from participating in AISES. My own story with the organization started in 2003 or 2004 with a trip to the national conference. From there, you reflect on how impressive and refreshing it is the see the exceptional work being performed by native students of all ages from across North American. You are provided with networking opportunities that may lead to an acceptance letter from your choice university, to job offer you were aiming for, or something totally unexpected!”
He added, “Professionals from across the Tribe, and it’s entities, have come together to share our collective knowledge and work to empower the next generation of scientists, engineers, nurses, teachers, botanists, and akin STEM field jobs in order to strengthen our nations. Our communities are healthier and the culture is stronger when our youth succeed us and grow the roles we occupy now.”