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.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  May 12, 2009; 2:38 PM ET
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I would like know why the Washington Post is not covering the FCPS subjective budget process that will eliminate the College Partnership Program. This program has existed for 20 years which has had 20,000 students accepted into college and over $25M in scholarship. These parents have submitted a over 1400 names on a partition with no response from FCPS and not one FCSB member. How about attending the budget hearings Wed night and talk to some of the parents. Fairfax County public school is elimination all minority from the budget. This action is being taken based subjective assessment and not supported with no data.

Posted by: njcooper | May 13, 2009 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Take a look at the SNAP Mathematics Fair concept (www.mathfair.com). It is designed to appeal to all students, not just ones interested in careers in mathematics, or native females. The concept has been successful with average North American kids as well as "at risk" children who are confined for drug abuse or violence. Children surprise both themselves and their teachers with their excitement and newly discovered interests.

Posted by: jgt2 | May 13, 2009 5:27 AM | Report abuse

I've been putting out a newsletter for a year now targeting math achievement for parents of young black, Hispanic, and Native American students. I need more material for Hispanic and Native American parents. I have started collecting material on my blog, www.doyouspeakmath.blogspot.com.

jgt2 - I really like the idea of puzzles for mathfair.com. I am concerned though about a noncompetitive math fair in a very competitive world. Is there a winner at the fair?

Posted by: jazzymom | May 14, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

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