The University of Montana (UM) is committed to attracting and retaining American Indians (AIAN) as students in undergraduate and graduate programs and on the UM faculty. This continuation application remains focused upon bridging the biomedical research communities at UM to five Tribal Colleges (TCUs) that serve American Indian students in western Montana. We will strengthen the most successful components of the existing Bridges program and to add new components to facilitate the engagement of AIAN students and faculty from TCUs in degree, research and career opportunities in the biomedical sciences. There is a significant pipeline of AIAN students attending TCU's in Montana, more than found in either Arizona or New Mexico. Transfer from these colleges located on rural reservations involves an enormous adjustment for students. In serving these transfer students this program will reduce informational and cultural barriers, augment academic preparation and engage student's families to encourage and support them. Recent research indicates that AIAN students consider family to be the most important factor leading to educational success.
Five specific Aims for the project include;(1) visits to the five TCUs to inform students and faculty of opportunities in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, (2) an orientation day on the UM campus for one faculty member and up to six students from each TCU, (3) a summer research internship, (4) continued encouragement and assistance for TCU students after transfer to UM, and (5) engagement of student's families in recognition of their critical importance in fostering student success. These five activities, and an increase in the number of students in the program from 10 to 15, will be undertaken to double the rate of students receiving baccalaureate degrees at UM within two years after transfer. We will increase the rate from two per year to four or more per year. Often students take longer, however, the two year rate is a convenient bench mark and accounts for about 25% of students who will graduate within 8 years of transfer for AIAN students (UM Retention Data).
This Bridges to the Baccalaureate program will increase the number of AIAN students receiving bachelor's degrees in biomedical and behavioral science fields. This is a critical step to redress a severe underrepresentation of American Indian/Alaska Natives (AIAN) in the health related professions and research. Increased participation of AIANs in health related careers will begin to address serious health disparities that are experienced by AIAN populations. Thus, this program will contribute to improvement of public health in general and for AIAN populations in particular.