American Indians and Hispanics have historically been under-represented in the scientific fields and recently there has been a steady decline in the number of American Indian and Hispanic students graduating with science and engineering bachelor's degrees from high Hispanic enrollment institutions and Tribal colleges. Further, chronic diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are a disproportionate cause of morbidity and mortality among American Indians and Hispanics, people who lack economic resources, and those who reside in rural geographies. The lower representation of American Indians and Hispanics in the sciences coupled with higher prevalence of chronic diseases among these populations poses a serious national challenge. According to the National Institutes of Health, potential solutions to this challenge are to enhance the prevention and population sciences research infrastructure by increasing research training and career opportunities for people under-represented in the sciences and to inform the public about the latest advances in prevention and population sciences research. We address this national challenge through a multi- faceted science enrichment program aimed towards students enrolled in tribal and non-tribal (predominantly Hispanic) middle schools, their science teachers, families, and the community at large in rural New Mexico. The program is a school- and community-based health education and participatory research program that incorporates intergenerational and science-inquiry based learning experiences to explore research, health promoting nutrition, and physical activity for the prevention of chronic diseases.
The aims are to: (1) enhance the science curriculum in the middle schools through the addition of modules on research, nutrition, and physical activity so as to foster interest in science careers among the students;(2) implement a comprehensive mentoring program for the students to ensure intergenerational learning;(3) provide professional development activities for the science and health teachers so as to develop sustainable skills for the development of evidence-based science curricula;(4) enhance the awareness among families and the community at large about the latest advances in prevention and population sciences research;and (5) evaluate effectiveness of the science enrichment program. We build on the UNM PRC's extensive expertise in school- and community- based prevention research. We utilize community-based health education and participatory research methods to implement the evidence-based curriculum that will increase student understanding and interest in science and the scientific methods. Further, we will develop dynamic partnerships between science teachers and UNM researchers, and will promote the community's understanding of current advances in health sciences. Lastly, we will broadly disseminate the project through a web-portal and other traditional and non-traditional venues to facilitate a quick adoption of the effective curriculum and other research tools developed through the project.
This project will, through the use of innovative technologies and educational strategies, foster and nurture interest among students about careers in the sciences. Further, the project will provide research-based evidence on the efficacy of innovative technologies (web-portal based research quests and mini games) and educational strategies (communities of practice, intergenerational mentoring) on increasing knowledge about chronic diseases and increasing interest in careers in the sciences. Equally importantly, the emphasis on rural New Mexico tribal and non-tribal communities will address national priorities for the recruitment and retention of individuals under-represented in research fields, especially prevention and population science research.