The number of Native Americans (NA) entering the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce is the smallest proportion of any ethnicity. At the same time, this group faces tremendous health disparities, with many directly linked to brain health. Education in, and awareness of, neuroscience-related health issues in NA communities involves three inter-related challenges: lack of a workforce culturally attuned to NA communities, systemic lack of capacity for on-site biomedical research, and significant mistrust of western scientific research and researchers. The proposed programs focus on developing NA health professionals and academic researchers who possess both cultural competence and trust from their communities, elements critical to eliminating health disparities and minority representation in STEM fields. In addressing these challenges, we first recognize that many Native American students approach the world and the means to investigate it from fundamentally different philosophical perspectives. In contrast to highly reductionist Western models, traditional NA epistemological models are more holistic and narrative-based. Importantly, these models, in which animate and inanimate entities are connected and interdependent, should not be seen as pedagogic deficits, but rather as an innate strength that may allow these students to construct and expand upon sophisticated mental models of current scientific knowledge. Together with our partners at Din College, we have developed an educational program that integrates established best pedagogical practices with neuroscience research learning experience. By integrating the holistic perspective of the Navajo culture with the scientific problem-based approach of neuroscience, we will advance and enrich both perspectives. The training program proposed herein is designed to create a pipeline of Navajo students to advance from Din College to neuroscience programs at top tier research universities, creating a model of culturally grounded STEM education while bolstering NIH workforce and cultural diversity. We will accomplish this goal through a series of interrelated aims. Our first specific aim is to develop a cooperative training program between Din College and the University of Arizona. Specifically, we will focus on developing the neuroscience literacy of Din College Students, providing them with professional development opportunities and a sense of belonging within the academic community. Our second specific aim is to build Din College?s institutional capacity to teach neuroscience methods and conduct independent scientific research. Our third specific aim is focused on re- establishing trust between the Din Navajo and the neuroscience community through a series of engagements with Community Elders and neuroscience-focused public engagement events.

Public Health Relevance

Native American groups are among the most under-represented groups across STEM disciplines, including Neuroscience. This disparity has arisen from a number of historical and institutional challenges. To meet this challenge, we propose the creation of a cooperative training program between two land grant colleges, University of Arizona and Din College, to train Native American students in laboratory-based research in neurosciences.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Education Projects (R25)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZNS1)
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Jones, Michelle
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University of Arizona
Schools of Pharmacy
United States
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