Encouraging Native American Girls in Science And Math
I went to the Arizona desert recently for vacation and had the chance to visit an Indian reservation. While touring a new community college there, I learned about an unusual approach to encourage girls in math and science.
The Tohono O’odham Community College created a program this year for daughters who are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math -- and also for their mothers. High school drop out rates are high on the reservation. Many of those who do graduate and go away to college find it difficult to live away from their families and their homes. Even an hour away in Tucson, many students feel isolated in the big city surrounded by non-native people - and drop out.
Program director Victoria Hobbs said it took her 15 years to earn her undergraduate degree in education. "When things got difficult from me, I just came home," she said.
Her mother was always glad to have her back, she said.
The program prepares girls for the rigors of college life, through financial planning and by encouraging them to take college-level classes in high school. It also prepares their mothers, many of whom never attended college. They give them a picture of why it's important for their daughters to earn a degree and how they can support them while they are away. They also get a dose of science education through workshops and field trips with their daughters. The mother-daughter pairs recently went on a group hike through the Sonoran desert and learned about plant life in three languages, English, the scientific term, and the O'odham term.
Until recently, the only way to pursue higher education was to leave the reservation, but that is also starting to change. The tribal community college, a two-year college formed in 2000, plans to expand and offer more degrees. It's current president, Olivia Vanegas-Funcheon, is also a role model for the girls. She is a former engineer and an O'odham woman.
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