American Indian people are underrepresented in the STEM fields. Tribal colleges are working to develop their research capacity so as to broaden participation in research by American Indian people. Salish Kootenai College (SKC), the tribal college of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, has in recent years likewise been expanding its research work, with both students and faculty. SKC faculty and administration recognize the importance of research in the recruitment and retention of students and faculty, in preparing students for STEM professions and graduate study, and in generating knowledge that benefits tribal communities and the rest of society. An indigenous research center (IRC), the first of its kind at a tribal college, has been envisioned as a means to further develop research capacity and broaden participation in research at SKC and other tribal colleges.
As a first step toward the development of such a center, SKC will conduct a self study and needs assessment to gather information that will assist in conceptualizing the center. The one-year study will be led by SKC and will include other tribal and non-tribal colleges, as well as related tribal entities, in gathering data to inform the feasibility, design, role, and operation of an IRC at SKC. A wide array of data types, both quantitative and qualitative, will be collected using a variety of strategies including focus groups, surveys, interviews, site visits, teleconferencing and video conferencing, and archived institutional data. The study will seek answers to questions such as "What kinds of research efforts and resources currently exist at TCUs? What strengths and hindrances related to research work are found within TCUs? What are the research priorities for TCUs? What types of assistance could an IRC provide to support the development of research capacity and broaden participation in research at TCUs? What would be the logistics of establishing and operating an IRC at SKC? Does the IRC align with SKC's vision and mission? What kinds of resources already exist at SKC to support the maintenance of an IRC and what kinds of things would have to be acquired or established?" The needs assessment and self study will occur in stages, adding participants and collecting finer-grained information at each stage. Data will be analyzed in several ways as appropriate for each data type, using descriptive statistics for quantitative data and thematic analysis for qualitative data, for example. A formative report generated after the first few months of the study will inform later stages of the work. A preliminary framework for he IRC will be iteratively revised by a broad range of TCU partners in the later stages of the study. A comprehensive report of the study process and its final findings will be shared with the NSF and project stakeholders and will be made available to a wider audience on the SKC web site.