New Mexico EPSCoR and UNM Researchers Receive Grant to Research Indigenous-based STEM Education

Photo of Dr. Selena Connealy and Dr. Lani Tsinnajinnie

Dr. Selena Connealy and Dr. Lani Tsinnajinnie the New Mexico representatives for the CIRCLES Alliance project


Brittney Van D… September 02, 2020

The National Science Foundation has awarded researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM), New Mexico Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NM EPSCoR), and partner institutions a total of $739,619 in research grants to address the under-representation of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines and workforce.

The Cultivating Indigenous Research Communities for Leadership in Education and STEM (CIRCLES) Alliance builds on existing partnerships with tribal communities and tribal colleges in six states in the western half of the U.S. (New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) to develop a collective strategy for increasing the engagement, involvement, and success of AI/AN students in STEM.

Dr. Selena Connealy, Education and Outreach Manager for NM EPSCoR, will serve as Principal Investigator (PI) for the New Mexico portion of the Alliance, along-side Co-PI Dr. Lani Tsinnajinnie, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning at the UNM School of Architecture, Water, and Natural Resources.

“We are so pleased to be part of this Alliance along with our EPSCoR colleagues across the five other states. Here in New Mexico, this project will give us an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with AI/AN communities and also with the organizations and institutions that support AI/AN STEM education.”

 “The CIRCLES Alliance looks to increase the knowledge gained by the combined effort of states that will collectively engage and impact AI/AN communities through conversation, interviews, and relationship building with the tribal entities in each state. We recognize that a different framework is needed for AI/AN students that recognizes and incorporates the unique traditional knowledge, sense of place, rights of sovereignty, and culture of Indigenous peoples,” said Aaron Thomas, overall lead for the Alliance and Director of Indigenous Research and STEM Education and an Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Montana.

Through the CIRCLES Alliance, researchers at the University of Idaho, Central Wyoming College, the UNM, NM EPSCoR, Black Hills State University, North Dakota State University, and University of Montana will build on strong, existing partnerships with tribal communities and colleges to study promising practices and areas of greatest need in STEM education for AI/AN students. The project will look to develop AI/AN-based STEM education activities for K-12 and higher education students, as well as become a model for partnering with tribal communities to advance Indigenous-based STEM education. Ultimately, the project aims to support tribal communities in producing a STEM-ready workforce to meet their communities’ unique economic development needs.

 “With 10.5% of the nation’s AI/AN population residing within our project’s six states, we are poised to make meaningful, collective impact across our region while generating results and approaches that can be scaled nationally,” said Thomas.