A pre-veterinary student used drones to study beaver dams in Montana. A senior majoring in chemical engineering researched how to make nontoxic batteries. A sophomore in chemistry got a taste of nanomedicine. Three other students examined bacteria from the gut microbiome as part of research to improve diagnostic tests of infectious diseases.
Their projects were different, but the six students who took part in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) had more than one thing in common. All of them were young, female, Native American scientists.
The summer program brings students from universities and colleges across the country to perform cutting-edge research in fields such as biomaterials and nanoscale science and engineering, under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. The 10-week program has grown over the years, said Kathryn Hollar, director of community engagement and diversity outreach at SEAS, and the application process is very competitive. This year, 700 students applied for 70 slots, six of which were taken by Chelsea Draper, Trisheena Kills Pretty Enemy, Kylie Ray Lee, Naomi Redfield, Dominique Pablito, and Racquel White, who together made up the largest group of Native American students yet be enrolled.
Increasing the number of Native American participants in the program is an effort that the School takes seriously, said Hollar. “Science and engineering are better off when we have people of different cultures and perspectives, because it leads to a richer set of ideas and questions,” she said. “This is also a social justice issue. We have very few Native American scientists and engineers, and it’s our responsibility to provide opportunities for all groups of people that have been historically excluded.”