Western, Northwest Indian College Collaborate on New 5-Year $1.65 million NSF Grant

Northwest Indian College  (NWIC) and Western Washington University have been awarded a five-year, $1.65 million grant from the National Science Foundation designed to boost the number of Native American students making the transition to graduate school in the geosciences and provide a more direct bridge between NWIC and Western’s Huxley College of the Environment.

“Given the proximity of the two schools, and the shared geography of Bellingham Bay / Salish Sea Basin, we see a partnership which creates pathways for students from NWIC to enter Western as an exciting opportunity to create advancement for Native American students in the geosciences,” said Emma S. Norman, chair of the Department of Native Environmental Science at NWIC and a Huxley College alumna. “The proximity of the partner institutions (and the shared waters) provides a very important context for collaboration purposes.”

Key pieces of the action plan funded by the NSF include the hiring of additional geoscience faculty at both NWIC and Western; the development of a new Organic Chemistry curriculum at NWIC; new mentorship opportunities; the development of a shared research and internship agenda between the schools that will serve as pathways for student engagement; and the development of a shared Salish Sea Seminar Series that will rotate between the two schools.

Western’s John Rybczyk, a professor of Environmental Sciences and the administrator of Western’s portion of the grant, said the key piece to the project was that it will strengthen the partnership between the two schools in new and exciting ways.

“NWIC already has a successful four-year degree program in Native Environmental Science, along with other resources such as the Salish Sea Research Center, directed by Marco Hatch.  Here at Western, we have faculty with a strong record of research and graduate-student mentorship.  Given the proximity of our institutions and a shared sense of place and commitment to environmental studies, this partnership is the perfect way to synergize the strengths of both of our programs,” Rybczyk said.

Justin Guillory, president of Northwest Indian College, said he was excited about the new educational pathways the grant would open for his students.

"With the generous support from the National Science Foundation, this project not only represents the power of institutional collaboration, but the opportunity to develop the next generation of Native scientists who honor and practice this teaching passed on by our elders: by taking care of the environment, we are taking care of ourselves,” he said.

Western’s President, Bruce Shepard, echoed Guillory’s thoughts.

“Western is proud to partner with Northwest Indian College on expanding and strengthening this pathway for Native American students into graduate studies in the environmental sciences.  I commend the faculty and staff at NWIC and Huxley College for their efforts to make this possible, and the longstanding relationships of mutual respect and cooperation on which this opportunity is founded,” Shepard said.

Jill Karsten, Education and Diversity program director for the NSF Geosciences directorate, said the grant will allow the collaboration between the two schools to expand in new and meaningful ways and is an example of how the NSF seeks to maximize the impact of every federal dollar spent on STEM research and education.

“Together, they will be pursuing a shared vision for the future that is culturally sensitive, highly supportive of the Native American students who will be engaged, mutually beneficial for the participating non-Native students and faculty, and creative in its leveraging of the respective strengths of the two institutions,” Karsten said.

For more information on the NSF collaborative grant between NWIC and Western, contact John Rybczyk, Western Washington University professor of Environmental Sciences, at (360) 650-2081 or john.rybczyk@wwu.edu; or Emma Norman, chair of the Department of Native Environmental Science at Northwest Indian College, at (360) 392-4309 or enorman@nwic.edu.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 4:18pm