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Invisible No More: Reflections During Native American Heritage Month

Sherry Salway Black is Board Vice Chair of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She is wearing a black blazer and has short silver hair.

This article was written by Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota), Board Vice Chair at Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Officially designated in 1990 by President H.W. Bush, the acknowledgments and activities today have expanded beyond the grade school stereotype that “Indians and Pilgrims celebrate Thanksgiving.”

Much has changed over the 40+ years I’ve worked for and with Native people, communities and organizations. Now stories about Native Americans, I’m happy to say, are told all year long and mostly by Native people themselves—which has not always been the case. This November, the stories are more numerous, mainstream and educational than simply the “First Thanksgiving.”

Native people have made inroads into areas where we have not been historically. This includes the three branches of the federal government—legislative, executive and judicial.  There are five members of the House of Representatives who are Native. There had been six, but Deb Haaland, formerly a representative from New Mexico, was appointed Secretary of the Interior in 2020. She is one of 52 Native people appointed by the Biden Administration in top leadership positions at various departments, boards, commissions, and in the White House. There are now five sitting federal judges who are Native, two of whom were more recently appointed by President Biden. And on November 15, 2023 the Senate confirmed a Native person to be a U.S. ambassador.

Native people now have more of a presence in pop culture and entertainment. There are popular television series such as “Reservation Dogs,” “Dark Winds” and “Rutherford Falls”—to name a few—that have Native actors, directors and producers. While not told from the Native perspective, the recently released Scorsese-directed movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” showcases an unknown part of the history of the Osage people, featuring powerful Native actors. Season 2 of the four-part PBS series, “Native America,” premiered in October. It is directed and produced by Native people with active input from the community and “reveals the beauty and power of today’s Indigenous world.”

There are amazing award-winning authors such as Pulitzer Prize winner, Louise Erdrich, or author Robin Wall Kimmerer, whose book “Braiding Sweetgrass” recently spent two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t want to go down this road too far, as I’ll never be able to note the countless Native people who are leading in new areas and benefitting their communities with positive stories—and role models.

We should also acknowledge the great strides that many tribal governments have made over the past few decades, building their economies, preserving their cultures and creating a better quality of life for their citizens. They are doing this by exercising their sovereignty in small and large ways. Tribal enterprises and Native-owned businesses have grown dramatically over the past decade providing employment, income and the opportunity to build wealth. The number of Native-led nonprofit organizations is growing, meeting needs and making inroads in development finance, arts and culture, philanthropy, activism, health delivery and education, to name a few.

Native people have taken on the challenge of changing the narrative about their people, breaking down the stereotypes. We are not a remnant of the past, but very much alive and thriving today. Out this month is a book to share our stories.Invisible No More: Voices from Native America” is a joint venture between First Nations Development Institute and Nonprofit Quarterly. I’m honored to be one of more than two dozen Native nonprofit leaders who contributed to this multi-year effort to elevate our stories and our voices.

“Invisible No More” includes lessons for philanthropy about the importance of including, engaging and supporting Indigenous peoples’ efforts. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been a leader in supporting education for Indigenous people for over 30 years, providing more than $30 million in scholarships and other grants to institutions across the United States and Canada. JSF chair and former CEO, Malcolm Macleod, recently released a new book, “The Practice of Philanthropy: A Guide for Foundation Boards and Staff,” which also shares lessons learned and strategies from his more than 30 years in philanthropy.

I wish every month of the year celebrated the Indigenous people of this land. The books, movies and Native people represented in more areas and actions, such as land acknowledgments, raise awareness that we are still here—not a historical artifact.

This important work continues.

For more information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s work in funding programs for Indigenous Peoples, click here.

Toronto Metropolitan University Recognizes Orange Shirt Day 2023

Community members at Toronto Metropolitan University wear orange shirts and walk on a brick sidewalk. One of them is carrying a blue flag with bear paws. Another wears a shirt that says "every child matters".

Photo courtesy of Nadya Kwandibens

Every year on September 30, Canada recognizes residential school victims and survivors on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also called Orange Shirt Day. 

The day of remembrance acknowledges when children were taken from their homes and forced to live in boarding schools across Canada. There, they were prohibited from speaking their languages and often abused. These horrific events occurred from 1883 until 1996, when the last of the residential schools closed their doors.

To commemorate Orange Shirt Day 2023, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), a grantee partner of the Foundation, held several events for community members and Indigenous peoples to reflect.

The university raised the survivors’ flag on campus to honor all survivors, families and communities impacted by Canada’s residential school system. Participants also embarked on a silent walk while wearing orange shirts. Additionally, TMU acknowledged the stark difference between the “educational” institutions and experiences for non-Indigenous and Indigenous students.

Saije Catcheway, a Johnson Scholar and third-year TMU student pursuing business management and law, recently reflected on Orange Shirt Day during an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I see Indigenous people as huge healers,” said Catcheway, who is also on TMU’s varsity women’s hockey team. “I think that our new generation is big for healing—and not just shining a light on the negative [parts] of our history but shining a light on how [our culture] can actually be used as a strength.”

Two community members at Toronto Metropolitan University wear orange shirts and stand outside. One of them is playing a blue hand drum and singing.

Photo courtesy of Nadya Kwandibens

As part of the university’s commitment to systemic changes that support Indigenous community members, TMU is implementing an Indigenous Wellbeing and Cultural Practice Leave, where Indigenous staff from Canada can take up to five personal days to support healing and wellbeing, including cultivating cultural interests and practices however they choose.

Indigenous students at TMU can also access culturally supportive programs and services on campus, including peer support groups and Indigenous traditional counseling through Gdoo-maawnjidimi Mompii Indigenous Student Services (GMISS).

“Reaching out to Indigenous youth and people and just asking [for] their experiences… It’s an easy step to make a huge impact in reconciliation,” Catcheway reflected.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation funds a matching grant for TMU for program support and scholarship assistance for Indigenous students.

At 40, Northwest Indian College Looks Back at Success

The following article was originally written by Natasha Brennan for Tribal College Journal. It is shared here with permission.

Brent Cleveland, a student at Northwest Indian College, speaks to fellow students during a graduation ceremony outside. He's wearing a black cap and gown. Mountains outline the background of the photo.

Brent Cleveland speaks to his fellow graduates at Northwest Indian College’s commencement. Cleveland earned his Bachelor of Arts in tribal governance and business management with highest honors.

As a student at Northwest Indian College (NWIC), Laural Ballew attended American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) meetings while working on her associate’s degree.

“Even though we were all from different tribal colleges and nations, we all had the same drive, ambitions, and dreams. We were being educated and given space to hold onto our culture. I got to see that at a national level thanks to AIHEC,” Ballew said.

After completing her program at NWIC, which only offered associate’s degrees at the time, she completed her bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University in 2002 and her master’s in public administration with a concentration in tribal governance from Evergreen State College. When she returned to NWIC as the director of finance, Ballew was later asked to lead the two-year business administration and entrepreneurship programs.

In 2010, NWIC was accredited to offer bachelor’s degrees. An NWIC survey found the community wanted the college’s two-year programs in tribal governance and business management (TGBM) to grow. In researching how to fill that need, Ballew learned there were certificates, two-year programs, and master’s programs for TGBM at other institutions—but not four-year degrees. With the help of her MPA mentor, the late Alan Parker, Ballew adapted Evergreen’s TGBM master’s curriculum into a four-year program at NWIC.

“I had so many students knocking down my door. I didn’t have to advertise. Students were anxious to be the first graduates. Using Evergreen’s curriculum meant our graduates were better prepared for master’s programs,” Ballew said.

In 2013, the Bachelor of Arts in Tribal Governance and Business Management program became the third of four bachelor’s degrees NWIC offers. Designed to develop the skills that support governance and business management in tribal communities and organizations, the program of study offers students the fundamental knowledge and experience necessary to succeed in the areas of leadership, sovereignty, economic development, entrepreneurship, and management.

“With funding in-part from the American Indian College Fund [AICF], NWIC was able to acquire 160 acres of land,” vice president of campus development and administration services Dave Oreiro said. “The college’s capital campaign, in collaboration with AICF through AIHEC, expanded the Lummi main campus’ facilities.”

By 2014, the 4,500 square-foot Kwina building became home to the college’s TGBM program. Despite having a new building, TGBM faculty knew the program—being geared toward working students with full-time jobs, entrepreneurs, and business leaders—had to be as accessible as possible. They developed online and hybrid courses, becoming the first four-year program at NWIC to offer them.

“My own story helped me to understand where our students were coming from,” Ballew said. “Juggling family, work, and school isn’t always easy.”

TGBM became a model for the school in developing its distance learning curriculum, which was in the works prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, the program—which was ahead of its time in online offerings—was instrumental in preparing the school to become an accredited distance learning institution in 2020.

“Going into the pandemic, our faculty and staff were already prepared. That was unique and made our program favorable for working students,” Ballew said.

TGBM faculty and staff have worked to make the program affordable and offer exciting opportunities for students. The program is supported by an endowment with the college’s foundation, including a $1 million match and an additional $100,000 in scholarship awards from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The program works closely with the College Fund and tribal entities to develop career readiness and internship programming with the Lummi Nation, Intuit, Pyramid Communications, and White Swan Environmental. The program is also working to finalize an official partnership with the Bureau of Trust Fund Operations to support student career pathways with federal government roles that impact tribal nations.

To date, the Tribal Governance and Business Management Program has conferred 160 bachelor’s degrees. Over 40% of the college’s 370 bachelor’s graduates majored in TGBM.

“It goes to show that when you build something that the community wants, the community will help you build it up quickly. The program has great faculty and staff like TGBM department chair Brandon Morris. They know that every day a Native student walks into the classroom or through that virtual door is a success,” Ballew said.

In addition to her role as a member of NWIC’s board of trustees, Ballew serves as Western Washington University’s first executive director of American Indian, Alaska Native, and First Nations relations and tribal liaison to the president. She is working on her doctorate in Indigenous development and advancement from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi in New Zealand.

“I’m fortunate to have insight into what it’s like to be a student, staff, and administrator. Being on the NWIC board has enabled me to attend AIHEC meetings like I did as a student. Only now I listen to the presidents and administrators who are experiencing the same challenges, relishing in our students’ success, and supporting each other toward bettering Indigenous higher education,” Ballew said. “I am excited to be celebrating 50 years of AIHEC and thankful for their support of Northwest Indian College as we celebrate our 40th year.”

JSF Indigenous Student Excellence Scholars excel and give back at Toronto Metropolitan University: Part 2

The following article was submitted by Toronto Metropolitan University. It is shared here with permission.

JSF Indigenous scholar and student-athlete spends summer mentoring students back home

Following closely in the footsteps of Johnson Scholar Cody Anthony is Saije Catcheway, who has recently completed her second year of a Bachelor of Commerce, studying Business Management and Law.

Catcheway cites coming to Toronto to study and join the Varsity Women’s Hockey team as a “dream come true.”

She too is a recipient of the JSF Scholarship, which Catcheway says reinforced her belief in herself. “This gracious gift showed that my hard work is paying off and relieved a weight from my shoulders,” she says. “I’m grateful for being able to continue my education while knowing that I’m able to pay my living expenses and my transportation home.”

Catcheway is Ojibwe-Cree and returns home for four months in the summer break to Skownan First Nation in Manitoba to mentor students from Grade 3 to Grade 7 through speaking engagements and athletics. Her mentorship initiative is funded by the Ted Rogers Student’s Society Leadership Award.

Education on the reservation only goes to Grade 10, but – thanks to a scholarship – Catcheway, who was born and raised in nearby Winnipeg, had the opportunity to attend and graduate with honors from an all-girls private school. Soon after, she attended college in the U.S., but the high tuition and cost of living led her to leave. She thought her dreams to pursue post- secondary education and play college-level hockey may have ended, until she was accepted to study business at TMU, which she says was always her number-one choice.

She emphasizes that “in the TMU culture, athletics are at a very high standard, but as a student athlete, ‘student’ comes first, academics come first.” Balancing both academic and athletics has helped her hone her time management skills to balance school with practice, training and traveling for hockey games. In the process, she has also been awarded the Ontario University Athletics Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2023.

She feels she’s at TMU “for a reason” and wants to continue to be a role model for her First Nation community and culture, who along with her family have been supportive of her goals.

This summer, she hopes to also mentor the high school students and consult with the Skownan chief, counsel and teachers about expanding opportunities, perhaps online, for learners past Grade 10.

“I want to inspire these kids to further their education. I want to be a role model to promote inclusivity, change and opportunity, especially for Indigenous women in the workplace,” Catcheway says. “I can’t stress enough that you’ve got to love what you’re studying and be passionate about your goals in school in order to do well and to have fun.” She hopes to pursue a law degree after graduation.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation continues to make higher education accessible for three additional Indigenous students who are studying Professional Music, Midwifery and Sociology at TMU and who are passionate about making a positive impact in their communities.

JSF Indigenous Student Excellence Scholars excel and give back at Toronto Metropolitan University: Part 1

The following article was submitted by Toronto Metropolitan University. It is shared here with permission.

Cody Anthony is the first JSF Scholar to graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) in Canada. He is one of five Indigenous students at TMU whose academic and career dreams have become tangible and achievable thanks to support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

“I’m so grateful for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation award. It gave me peace of mind, so instead of worrying about meeting basic life necessities, I got to focus my attention on Indigenous initiatives and community impact,” he says. “It has prepared me for a lifetime of community work, which is exciting.”

Anthony identifies as a mixed urban Indigenous person, whose father is Dene with roots from the Deh Gah Got’ie Kue First Nation in the Northwest Territories. In May 2023, he graduated from TMU’s Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) with a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours in Business Management with an interest in Pre-Colonial Indigenous Entrepreneurship and Modern Economic Reconciliation.

“A lot of people don’t know the history of business or commerce between First Nations groups before colonization in what we now call Canada. I had the opportunity to work with the Indigenous Advisor at TRSM, Michael Mihalicz, to help develop an e-learning module called ‘Indigenous Entrepreneurship: A community-driven approach to new venture creation,’” says Anthony.

For this project, he gathered archaeological transcripts and evidence of trade amongst First Nations before 1941. “We did business differently, which was really cool. Gift giving was important, as was equity amongst relationships and partnerships. And leadership meant caring for one another.”

Mihalicz, who in addition to being the Indigenous Advisor in the Office of the Dean, is also an Assistant Professor, Entrepreneurship and Strategy Department in TRSM, says:

“Cody moves fast and efficiently, and I was really impressed.” He adds, “He has some incredible ideas and is committed to creating space for Indigenous Knowledges to exist within TRSM. Cody is also committed to bridging the cultural divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples at TMU through community-building activities that bring everyone together in a way that maintains the integrity of our identities and voices. One really big initiative that he founded was the inaugural Reconciliation in Business conference in 2022.”

The conference was spearheaded by the Ted Rogers Indigenous in Business student group, which Anthony also founded. His vision for the conference included uniting Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Toronto to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call-to-Action 92 by accelerating the fight for Indigenous economic sovereignty and self-determination and against the economic injustices Indigenous communities face, by closing the socioeconomic gap, and by unlocking the emerging C$100-billion annual Indigenous economy.

Mentorship at the heart of the JSF Indigenous scholar experience

Anthony credits mentorship opportunities as being key to his success at TMU.

“I’ve had a lot of amazing people support me in the journey. I could always depend on Michael Mihalicz,” he says.

Mihalicz first met Anthony through the Indigenous Student Welcoming Committee, where TRSM advisors reach out to welcome all incoming Indigenous students.

Mihalicz introduced Anthony to Sana Mulji, Senior Advisor for External stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Partnerships with Indigenous Initiatives. Mulji recruited Anthony to join the Indigenous Initiatives team, which works to integrate Indigenous art, curriculum, Knowledges and worldviews at TRSM, and she was key in helping Anthony run Reconciliation in Business 2022.

“Sana was imperative to my whole student experience, and she has helped my personal development so much,” says Anthony.

He also credits fellow student Hadia Siddiqui, Vice President of Speaker Relations of TEDxTorontoMetU, for her mentorship and guidance in producing his February 2023 Tedx Talk, titled “The Future is Indigenous,” which connects his personal experiences with the history of entrepreneurship and trends towards prosperity for Indigenous groups. The talk is scheduled to be released in Spring 2023.

“Hadia is an incredible student and helped me craft the perfect Ted talk,” he says, adding that there are others who served as invaluable peer mentors throughout his academic journey.

“I had the opportunity every single day to go out there and meet new people and be part of different projects, and have a huge network of incredible people that are going to support me down the line,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to get that without the scholarship.”

Now that he’s graduating, Anthony jokes that the first thing he is looking forward to is sleeping in during the summer. After that, he’s planning a career in advocacy, Indigenous entrepreneurship, economic development and, eventually, politics. “I’m really interested in supporting Indigenous youth and speaking up for the voiceless.” His advice for Indigenous students who follow in his footsteps: “Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to bring your Indigeneity to Toronto Metropolitan University.”

Two Pathways Mashteuiatsh projects forging new links

The following article first appeared on Pathways to Education Canada’s website. It is shared here with permission.

To give students a sense of belonging, Caroline Lambert, director of Pathways Mashteuiatsh, often adapts programming to fit the needs of youth within the local community. For example, Pathways Mashteuiatsh offers a series of workshops focused on activities such as crafting healing dolls and making traditional regalia. 

Residential school survivors participated in the healing dolls activity when it was first organized by Pathways Mashteuiatsh’s program partner, Puakuteu. During these workshops, Elders were given the opportunity to craft a doll. The creative process allowed survivors to talk about their experiences in the residential school system and the emotions it brought up. Caroline was so moved by the intersection of creative work and personal expression that she decided to include this activity as part of Pathways Mashteuiatsh’s programming.  

“Working with the Elders made us realize that the impact of the residential schools continued from generation to generation. It is still affecting young people seven generations later, just like the philosophical principle of the seven future generations. That’s why we decided to incorporate this activity in Pathways Mashteuiatsh’s programming,” Caroline explains. “We work with a kukum (grandmother) and a trained facilitator. They help address many topics by working with the dolls and it opens up conversations about young people’s well-being and their feelings.” 

Pathways Mashteuiatsh integrated a second activity, initially organized by program partner Puakuteu, into its programming: Traditional Teachings and Regalia. This activity focuses on the making of regalia, the traditional clothing and sacred accessories worn during powwows. Women and Elders from the Mashteuiatsh community wanted to pass on their knowledge to future generations, and Caroline saw an opportunity to offer a new activity to youth in the Pathways Program. “Through making the traditional dress, youth learn more about their culture and the history behind it,” Caroline shares. “And from a mentoring point of view, it’s a chance to work on skills like patience and attention to detail.” 

Both projects were met with great success. The healing dolls made by Pathways students are at the center of the Ilnikueu/Healing Dolls exhibit at the Mashteuiatsh Amerindian Museum. Caroline is pleased with the transformative impact the project had on students’ well-being. “Students said they cried and laughed, experienced a lot of emotions, and ultimately grew through this activity,” Caroline recounts. “It’s not easy to talk about feelings, but this project made it possible.” 

The regalia activity concluded when the first cohort of participants wore their regalia at the Grand Entrance of a powwow. It was a moment of shared pride that Caroline and Pathways Mashteuiatsh students will never forget. “The Grand Entry is like a red carpet,” Caroline explains. “The graduates were so proud; it was so beautiful to see. Everyone was watching. It created a buzz, and the other kids said to us, ‘Let’s go, I’m going to dress up next year, I’m going to get involved in the powwows.’” 

Every day, projects like these remind us of the power of working with partner community organizations across Canada to deliver the Pathways Program. Pathways Mashteuiatsh has operated in this community through partnership with Puakuteu, Women’s Committee of Mashteuiatsh since 2013. We are grateful for our partners’ support in helping more young people graduate from high school. 


For more information about Pathways to Education Canada, visit pathwaystoeducation.ca.

 

Field Tested: A groundbreaking field camp opens Earth sciences to students with disabilities

The following article was written by Alisson Clark and first appeared in the University of Florida’s Explore Magazine on November 17, 2022. It is shared here with permission.

The drone wouldn’t fly. The wheelchair-accessible van spun its tires, digging into the dusty gravel. And the men with shotguns refused to leave.

Standing under the baking Arizona sun, Anita Marshall took a breath. Over the past week, she had overcome international travel disasters, technology struggles, wildfires, even interference from a pair of nesting eagles, to provide hands-on experience for aspiring scientists whose disabilities excluded them from traditional field courses. Now her students had assembled on the edge of a 400-foot crater outside Flagstaff, eager for what some had been told they’d never have.

Conferring with her team of instructors, Marshall, a University of Florida geologist, reboots the drone. A delegation convinces the men using the site for target practice to move to a different area. The marooned van will have to wait, because the 18 students — some here in the desert, some joining remotely — are keen to do some science.

“They need this. If they don’t have experiences like this, we’ll lose some amazing minds out of our field,” Marshall says. “I don’t want that to happen.”

Anita Marshall is a UF geology professor who teaches disability-inclusive field courses. She is standing in the Northern Arizona desert and wearing a blue windbreaker and khaki pants.

“These are the students that are being pushed out of our discipline,” says UF geologist Anita Marshall, pictured at a site in Arizona where she offers inclusive, accessible fieldwork opportunities for disabled students.

If you care about clean water, climate change, energy, sustainable agriculture or other areas that rely on earth scientists, neither should you, Marshall argues. But earth science degrees often require a physically taxing, six-week camping trip far from medical care and even electricity. It’s a deal breaker, not only for those with mobility limitations, but also chronic fatigue, digestive issues, even severe food allergies — not to mention family or work responsibilities that prevent them from disappearing into the wilderness for half the summer.

With a $440,149 grant from the National Science Foundation, she launched GeoSPACE, an accessible field camp that’s opening geosciences — the least diverse STEM field — to people who might not fit the mold of the mountain-scaling explorer conquering the wilderness.

That’s the very image that drew Marshall to the field, until a near-fatal accident changed her trajectory.

Now she wants to reimagine field camp from the ground up.

“I don’t want field camp to be a barrier,” she says. “I want it to be a springboard.”

People Before Rocks

The drone is finally cooperating.

“Fly my pretty, fly!” Marshall says, handing the controls to Francesca Butler, a geology student from the United Kingdom. Because Butler uses a wheelchair, she’s been excluded from fieldwork at her university. Butler says GeoSPACE’s summer 2022 pilot program has allowed her to feel “like a real geologist.”

“I was almost in tears when I was able to get out in the field for the first time,” she says. “I think this is going to be the blueprint for the future.”

After exploring the trails leading around and through the crater, Butler is getting a bird’s-eye view of an outcrop rippled with striations of red, brown and black that reveal the desert’s volcanic past. Drones are one way Marshall brings the rocks to students. She also leverages satellite imagery, live high-definition video and the messaging platform Discord to put students in the middle of the action, whether they’re exploring the outcrop, working from a high-tech base camp beneath a pop-up awning, or joining remotely from home. After a half day at the site, they’ll return to a La Quinta in Flagstaff to review their data, learn about high-precision GPS mapping, and eat a home-cooked meal that accommodates all participants’ dietary needs.

It’s the opposite of a typical field camp, where forgoing comfort — and technology — is as much a part of the experience as the science.

But as Marshall is fond of saying, the rocks don’t care if you slept in a hotel.

“Chug your water, guys, that was a lot of dry air,” Marshall says from the driver’s seat on the way back from the field site.

The 15-passenger van rattles down a washboard road, every rut reverberating in bone-jarring judders. Pebbles ping the undercarriage like popcorn in a pan. Getting out of the classroom and into wild places like this is a cornerstone of field camp, and where research shows many students start to feel like real scientists. But for students with disabilities, who represent about 20% of the undergraduate population nationwide, it can also be an enormous source of stress. If they can’t get the accommodations they need to participate, they may have to change majors. That can lead students with less-visible disabilities to hide them, putting themselves in danger — a pattern Marshall knows well from her own experience. With this trip, she’s setting out to prove that the rigor and the joy of field camp can come in an accessible package.

It took a year of planning and scouting to organize locations and logistics. Each site needs passable roads, wheelchair-friendly surfaces, strong cell service for streaming video, and proximity to accessible hotel rooms and bathrooms. If a site doesn’t offer a meaningful field experience for everyone on the trip, it doesn’t make the cut.

UF student Francesca Butler operates a drone in the Arizona desert. She is wearing a light blue tank top and is using a wheelchair. Pictured next to her is Anita Marshall, a UF geologist who is wearing a blue windbreaker.

In her years of advocating for inclusion, “a lot of times you feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall,” says Marshall, pictured with student Francesca Butler. “This is the first time I felt like we actually put a crack in that wall.”

They also try not to spend more than half a day out in the elements, as their enthusiasm can tempt them to push beyond their limits — another pattern Marshall knows well. Throughout undergraduate and most of grad school, she relished the physicality of her fieldwork-heavy earth science program.

Then, on the night of her department’s awards banquet at the University of Arkansas, a drunk driver hit her as she was unloading her pickup truck. She nearly died at the scene and again at the hospital. When she regained consciousness, her left leg was crushed. So, she thought, were her dreams of becoming a field geologist.

“One of my very first thoughts when I woke up in the hospital was that my geology career was over,” she says. “I had never heard of a geologist with a disability. I didn’t see any path forward.”

A year of reconstructive surgeries followed. Her father quit his job and moved closer to campus to help. He and her sister became her field assistants, gathering data from places Marshall couldn’t access. When insurance hurdles delayed getting a wheelchair, her grandfather offered his.

“He would get himself all comfy in his recliner and I would leave for school in his wheelchair, do my classes, and then come back and give him his wheelchair back. We knew the clock was ticking to finish my master’s work. It was a big family push to get me through my degree.”

A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Marshall sees that community approach as central to her work in inclusion.

“Individualism is really foreign to a lot of Indigenous viewpoints, and Choctaws are no different in that. You’re always looking out for the needs of your family and your group. That very much influences my philosophy on field courses,” she says. “Rocks are cool. People are better. Take care of your people, and the rest will come.”

After graduating, Marshall learned to walk again. She got a job teaching geology at a community college. She loved it, but the repetition was very different from the far-flung places and extreme environments she had imagined. For seven years, the same introductory geology class, the same National Geographic video about volcanoes. Then one semester, something about that video jumped out at her. One of the scientists, severely injured in an eruption, had resumed his research after a long recovery.

“He’s doing it,” she recalls thinking. “Maybe I can do it!”

She started applying to Ph.D. programs, got accepted, and a year later was headed back out in the field.

Things did not go smoothly.

A group of geoscience students take measurements in the Arizona desert.

At GeoSPACE, Marshall (second from left) ensures each student can meaningfully participate without having to mask their disabilities.

The Trouble with Field Camp 

On the rim of a volcano in Nicaragua, the doctoral students gathered for a lecture about the geological features around them — all but Marshall, left straining to hear from the other side of the crater. She had gone as far as her reconstructed leg and chronic fatigue allowed, farther, really, pushing beyond the point of safety, not wanting to be left behind. As the students walked past her on their way back, one rolled his eyes.

“I don’t know why she even bothers,” she heard him say.

She felt alone. But when she examined her situation like a scientist, she realized she couldn’t be. In student surveys, 22% of high schoolers with disabilities say they’re interested in STEM careers. By the time they’re in undergrad, just 10% are still pursuing STEM jobs. Among master’s students, it dwindles to 6%. Marshall clearly wasn’t the only one getting the message she didn’t belong.

“The more I dug, the more I realized how little was being done and how this was a massive unspoken problem.”

Marshall knew she’d never regain the physical aptitude of able students. But with her new perspective, she started to wonder if the grueling physicality wasn’t central to the work, but merely the culture. Field camps have been slow to evolve, says Ellen Martin, UF’s geology department chair. As geosciences went high tech, field camp at many universities retained an emphasis on hand-drawn maps and physical prowess.

“There are instructors who try to make it as physically demanding as possible,” Martin says. “If that’s not the part of geology you’re going into, that’s not relevant at all.”

As a field geologist, Martin sees value in traditional field camps, but also recognizes that “we don’t all have to be men in flannel shirts with beards and rock hammers running around in the woods. Finding a way to have a more diverse field camp gives options for people who are interested in other aspects of the science.”

Although not all geoscience careers require fieldwork, many geoscience degrees do — as do employers, who may look for field experience because of the pivotal role it plays in building students’ skills, confidence and networks.

The answer, Marshall realized, wasn’t to do away with field camp, but to recenter it on skills students actually need. Without that, talented young scientists would continue to leave the field.

“It makes me die a little inside when I meet these amazing students and realize that they are being shut out of our discipline,” she says. “They’re innovative. They’re creative. They’re resourceful. We’re actively pushing them out, and that just kills me.”

The National Science Foundation agreed, funding two years of GeoSPACE as part of its mission to reach those excluded when science careers aren’t accessible or inclusive. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan calls them “the missing millions.”

“We are leaving tons of our talent behind,” Panchanathan said at a visit to UF in May. “We need all of it to unleash innovation and prosperity for all.”

Programs like Marshall’s are important for student retention and a sense of belonging and acceptance in the field, says Brandon Jones, NSF Program Director for Geosciences Education and Broadening Participation programs.

“The GeoSPACE program is using creative approaches to ensure that people with disabilities can participate fully and meaningfully in field experiences,” Jones says. “GeoSPACE involves students in developing the field experience and creates a network of mentors to support and encourage them.”

Mission: Inclusion

At the crater, teams of students fan out across the landscape, tackling the research questions they designed with the remote students. A remote option was critical to be truly inclusive, Marshall says, as some students’ disabilities won’t allow them to participate even with accommodations.

Shivani Dattani is a UF student studying geoscience. She's wearing a black top, has brown hair and is surrounded by a desert landscape.

Shivani Dattani at V235, an extinct volcano and GeoSPACE site.

The virtual participants serve as mission control for the group, introducing each new site based on satellite data, thermal imagery and Google Earth. In-person students act as the astronauts exploring the surface of another planet, gathering data that requires closer observation. It’s an apt analogy for this otherworldly landscape, and relevant to the course’s focus on planetary geology. But at its core, it’s a strategy to ensure everyone, regardless of their level of physical participation, has an integral part in the mission.

“I know that feeling of being left at the van while everyone else goes to do cool stuff,” Marshall says. “I don’t want another student to feel like I felt.”

Rutgers student Shivani Dattani returns from a sun-scorched ridge flanking the crater, taking a moment in the shade of the van to reflect on getting her first field experience through GeoSPACE. After a personal trauma, Dattani struggled to regain her footing in academia.

“This has really helped me bridge that disconnect from the year I missed,” she says. “It’s easing me back into what I really want to be doing: academic research. I feel like there might be a space for me in the scientific community.”

After receiving more than 70 applications from around the United States and six countries, Marshall realized how many types of students also felt like outsiders.

“Not everyone in our group identifies as disabled. They come from many walks of life, many different identities, and they all feel traditional field camp is not a great place for them.”

Marshall’s goal of broadening access resonated with UF geology graduate and GeoSPACE project manager Yesenia Arroyo, who joined the team which includes UF professors Steve Elardo and Amy Williams, plus geologists from Arizona State University, Central Connecticut State University, the University of Cambridge, the U.K.’s Open University and Rutgers University.

GeoSPACE program manager Yesenia Arroyo takes notes while out in the Arizona desert. She's wearing a beige sun hat and a light blue shirt.

GeoSPACE program manager Yesenia Arroyo, a UF graduate, was drawn to Marshall’s mission to diversify Earth sciences.

GeoSPACE program manager Yesenia Arroyo, a UF graduate, was drawn to Marshall’s mission to diversify Earth sciences.

“What she was saying about accessibility really struck a chord with me as a geologist with various intersectionalities myself,” says Arroyo, who is Black and Hispanic. “She definitely has the mission to get geologists of all shapes and sizes out here. It shouldn’t be stopping you from participating in something you love.”

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

‘Almost a cruel joke’

In 2018, her Ph.D. complete, Marshall started looking for a faculty job. Wrapping up her presentation on inclusive fieldwork at one interview, she asked if there were any questions.

After a long silence, one professor raised his hand and asked, “Why? Why bother?”

While most people don’t say it out loud, plenty share his assumption that disabilities impact a tiny portion of geoscience students. Because many disabilities aren’t outwardly visible, faculty members might assume no one needs accommodations. Sometimes they’re right, because those who do have concluded that they’re not welcome and changed majors. When students request accommodations for fieldwork, they often face resistance, Marshall says. As executive director of the International Association for Geoscience Diversity, she hears these stories constantly from universities in the United States and beyond. For example, one student whose manual dexterity limitations made it hard to take notes asked to use a tablet in the field. The request was denied.

Beyond disability, students with young children, financial constraints, or mental health considerations can see a traditional field course as an insurmountable obstacle. Try asking your boss for six weeks off, then paying for the course while you’re not working, she says.

“It really was designed for students from a bygone era — mostly male, independent students who had the financial and social ability to disappear for six weeks. For modern students, it’s increasingly hard to do that. The financial barrier is huge. The time barrier is huge. And six weeks is a long time to go without your support network. To make that a required component to finish a degree seems like a pretty large request.”

Back at the hotel, the group gathers for a taco buffet in the lobby, still buzzing about their day in the field.

“Don’t get used to this,” Marshall laughs, referring to the allergen-safe food, the laundry facilities, the comfy beds. She knows many of these students will go back to programs that require more than she can provide. GeoSPACE puts the all-important field experience on their resume, but as a two-credit course, it can’t replace the typical six-credit requirement on its own. At UF, students can replace the traditional course with another option approved by the undergraduate coordinator. An injured student was able to fulfill the entire 6-credit requirement virtually, an option geology chair Martin says is available to others who need it. But few universities offer such alternatives, which worries Marshall.

“I don’t want to take them out to have this amazing experience, get this little glimpse of how things could be, and then kick them back to the real world where they still can’t get through their degree programs,” she says. “That would almost be a cruel joke.”

Instead, Marshall wants other universities to use GeoSPACE as a model, leveraging everything she’s learned to develop inclusive, accessible two-credit modules on different topics. UF is considering adding a two-credit option during spring break, Martin says.

“I’m amazed by the impact Anita’s already had,” she says. “It’s making a lot of people think. I suspect a lot of places will realize it’s to their benefit to offer programs like that for their students.”

If they do, we all stand to benefit.

“We can’t keep courting such a narrow sliver of humanity and then expect to tackle these big, complex problems that affect everybody,” Marshall says. “We have to move forward with all the voices. And not just for the science, but because it’s the right thing to do.”


Photos and video by Brianne Lehan/University of Florida

 

Introducing Native Forward Scholars Fund

Johnson Scholarship Foundation is proud to share the rebranding of its grantee partner, Native Forward Scholars Fund, formerly known as the American Indian Graduate Center. JSF partners with Native Forward to provide academic scholarships for students majoring in accounting or finance as well as exam fee scholarships for individuals pursuing professional licensure. The collaboration is also helping Native Forward establish a scholarship endowment.

This is what Native Forward has to say about how the new name was chosen:

Since the origin of our organization over 50 years ago, our work has supported the forward movement of Native communities — giving rise to new beginnings, advancing new opportunities, and establishing new horizons for our scholars.

We are committed to our goal of empowering Native leaders through national scholarship funding and student services to share their voices and strengthen their communities.

Today, we would like to reintroduce ourselves as Native Forward Scholars Fund. While there is no perfect single name to describe all members of our communities, “Native” speaks clearly to our collective history and cultures. “Forward” directly speaks towards the empowerment of our scholars’ success to create and enact positive change.

We are grateful for 50 years in community with you and look forward to the next 50 – join us at: nativeforward.org!


The Importance of STEM Initiatives to Indigenous American Communities

Every child should have the freedom to dream big. At the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), it’s been our mission to encourage Indigenous children to not only dream big in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), but to make those dreams a reality.

The current, and increasing, underrepresentation of Indigenous people in STEM is cause for national concern because it deprives our nation of the potential for innovation and transformative solutions arising from a diverse STEM workforce (Corbett & Hill, 2015; National Academies, 2011). Further, research suggests diverse voices, such as those of Indigenous learners and professionals, contribute to creative and critical STEM enterprise of problem solving (Page, 2007; Spencer & Dawes, 2009). Equally, it is morally imperative to support all individuals, including Indigenous men and women, and Indigenous two-spirit and LGBTQIA+ individuals, who wish to pursue STEM education and careers.

Too many bright and talented Indigenous students at all levels encounter challenges academically for a multitude of reasons. Working with its partners, AISES creates brighter futures for them by ensuring equal access to STEM educational programming, closing gender and learning gaps, placing a premium on diversity, and improving access to essential support services and resources. And while encouraging Indigenous students to pursue STEM studies because today’s fastest growing, most in-demand jobs are in STEM fields, the skills and principles acquired through STEM education are equally important for those looking to create and manage businesses of their own someday.

For over 40 years, AISES has been committed to substantially increasing the number of Indigenous people in STEM studies and careers. AISES’ three key focus areas are student success, career support, and workforce development. In the advancement of our mission, AISES works with exceptional Indigenous students who all too often face educational and economic inequalities. As such, AISES offers programming and resources to encourage, guide, and fund Indigenous students on their pathway into a STEM field. Upon completion of their STEM degree or certification, AISES continues to provide supportive programming and resources as well as access to the nation’s largest network of individuals and institutions dedicated to supporting the ongoing career development and advancement of Indigenous people in STEM fields.

In 2017, AISES launched a STEM and Business initiative to expand opportunities and provide resources for AISES members who want to combine their interest in STEM with starting or expanding a business within their own tribal communities. Since then, AISES has engaged hundreds of students and professionals by delivering sessions at its annual conference, creating a cohort of individuals for entrepreneurship training and mentorship, and providing start-up capital to program participants. To support this work, AISES partners with allies who are also committed to providing resources to help grow and expand the numbers of Indigenous STEM students and professionals. One such collaboration is with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

With support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, AISES STEM and Business program is delivering an entrepreneurship training initiative to (1) expand access to the AISES STEM and Business curriculum via AISES microsite along with outreach and promotion of these resources to the entire AISES network; (2) create a 10-person STEM and Business cohort and recruitment of 5 professional mentors; (3) conduct a three-part series of STEM and Business trainings, two in-person trainings hosted in conjunction with AISES events and one virtual training; and (4) award mini-grants to support Indigenous STEM Business development.

Thanks to partners like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, AISES has enabled many Indigenous people to develop businesses. It’s helped grow tribal enterprises, and supported tribal communities as they strive toward economic independence and the assertion of tribal sovereignty. Now more than ever, it is essential for AISES to further expand our partnerships to create more opportunities for Indigenous youth and young professionals seeking careers in STEM fields. It is time to make Indigenous STEM representation a priority as a critical component of the larger global effort to develop the most innovative solutions to today’s most pressing problems and issues. Together, AISES and its partners are creating those opportunities – and I hope you too will join us.


Sarah Echohawk is a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, and is CEO of AISES.