The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, entitled Integrated Optics for Undergraduate Native Americans (IOU-NA) (#EEC-1359163), is a multidisciplinary REU in the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) at the University of Arizona. The IOU-NA supported up to 8 students in a 10-week summer research experience for three summers in labs across the College of Optical Sciences and the College of Science. This program was developed based on theories of student departure and persistence in college, as well as American Indian identity theories and serves as a catalyst for persistence in STEM undergraduate programs and as a recruitment pathway toward graduate studies in STEM. This program provided opportunities for students to incorporate themselves academically and socially into an engaging research project and to make informed decisions about their occupational goals through a series of presentations and workshops with the focus on Native American cultures. This IOU-NA provided Native American undergraduates (n=23), mostly from non-research institutions, an opportunity to engage in meaningful research and build positive academic experiences with peers and student and faculty mentors. Participants were from 10 different tribes: Navajo, Caddo, Comanche, Colorado River, Tohono O’odham, Port Gamble S’Klallam, San Carlos Apache, Blackfoot, and Assiniboine. Fifty two percent were freshmen or sophomores; 35% were female; 48% from community colleges or tribal colleges; 74% were from colleges with limited research/STEM research opportunities; and 48% were first generation college students. The IOU-NA occurred in concert with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium (UROC) at the University of Arizona, which provided graduate school information, application guidance, and GRE training. Further, participants engaged in professional skills workshops, such as, technical writing, oral communication skills, and presentations about industry options in optical sciences. Participant deliverables included presentation of a research poster, oral presentation of REU research, and an extended research abstract. Since the conclusion of the program, 61% of participants have presented at or attended professional conferences and one student was awarded a patent with his faculty mentor based on his REU research. Ten participants have thus far successfully graduated with their A.S. (3) or B.S. (7) degrees. Of the seven B.S. graduates, five were accepted to graduate school, one is in the process of applying to graduate school, and one is working in a STEM field. Each A.S. graduate is currently pursuing BS STEM degrees at research universities. Outcomes of this REU program support the importance of positive and meaningful academic experiences and relationship-building within the context of culture and identity on persistence in four-year STEM degrees and into STEM graduate programs.
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