Native American and Tribal Communities Take Initiative to Increase Representation in Engineering

Posted on: June 7, 2023   |   Categories: Announcements, News & Updates
Building Partnerships In STEM Education

This piece by Native Science Report, an organization dedicated to exploring the role of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in tribal and Native communities across North America, was published May 25, 2023.

A recently released documentary, Building Partnerships in STEM Education, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), was produced to highlight their longstanding effort to increase the number of American Indian students earning degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

In 2001, the NSF created the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP) to help Native American tribes offer more higher education opportunities in STEM to Indigenous students. Two NSF-funded programs, the Pre-engineering Education Collaboratives (PEEC) and Partnerships for Geoscience Education (PAGE), are working to increase the number of Native American students pursuing degrees in engineering and geosciences, respectively.

The need for these programs was evident. In 2006, only 353 of the 68,000 engineering degrees awarded at four-year institutions went to American Indian students. The reasons for this were varied, including both a lack of educators and a lack of financial resources in Indigenous communities.

To address these challenges, PEEC and PAGE partnered Tribal colleges and universities in Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin with four-year universities in their state. The partnerships, led by the Tribal institutions, provided each with the resources needed to expand their STEM curriculum and support students as they transitioned from a two-year program to four-year programs and beyond. PEEC and PAGE also highlighted to students the knowledge they could bring back to their communities with their degrees, including building affordable homes, providing clean water, repairing infrastructure, creating jobs, and preventing detrimental environmental impact to their homelands.

As a result of the PEEC and PAGE programs, all Tribal and Native-serving colleges involved were able to offer full pre-engineering and/or geoscience degree programs and enroll students in these programs. They also developed clear pathways to help students transfer to 4-year programs and showed overall improvement in the quality and variety of support services offered to Native students enrolled in their institutions.

“These programs have demonstrated why partnerships led by Tribal colleges and universities can be so impactful,” said Dr. Paul Boyer, editor of the Native Science Report, an online journal reporting on STEM programs within Native communities funded by the NSF and managed by Sisseton Wahpeton College, a Tribally controlled college in South Dakota. “These institutions were able to identify solutions and take actions that not only enrolled more students in engineering and geoscience programs but encouraged them to remain connected to their homes and culture, to preserve and strengthen the places they are from.”

Boyer said the documentary video was produced to celebrate the program’s achievements and offer a roadmap for other Tribal colleges and universities and mainstream engineering programs to follow in similar ways. The video can be viewed on the Native Science Report’s website. View a trailer.

Louise Pagotto, Chancellor of Kapiʻolani Community College (now retired), said, “The biggest legacy of this program is to allow the students to believe that they can do it. They can be engineers and contribute to their communities and they don’t have to abandon the beliefs and traditions of their own culture.”

The short documentary, Building Partnerships in STEM Education, was funded by the NSF.

For more information about the PEEC and PAGE projects, visit the Native Science Report’s “Resources” page.

NSR Reports

Participating PEEC Collaboratives by State


  • Kapi’olani Community College in Honolulu
  • Leeward Community College in Pearl City
  • University of Hawaii Maui College in Kahului
  • Windward Community College in Kaneohe
  • Honolulu Community College in Honolulu
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa Campus in Honolulu

North Dakota

  • Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten
  • Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town
  • Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt
  • Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates
  • North Dakota State University in Fargo

South Dakota

  • Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation
  • South Dakota State University in Brookings
  • South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City


  • College of Menominee Nation in Keshena
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison
  • University of Wisconsin-Platteville in Platteville