On July 14-16, the University of Utah welcomed 113 middle-schoolers from the American Indian Services Pre-Freshman Engineering Program (AIS PREP) to celebrate the completion of their 2021 course. AIS PREP is a free educational program for Native American youth to take science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses for three consecutive summers. At the end of the program, students are ready to pursue advanced high school courses and are offered AIS scholarships to any higher education institution of their choice. The University of Utah, American Indian Services, STEM Action Center Utah, and Solight Design took this special occasion to team up and create a most memorable event for the kids.
On arrival, students were greeted by administration with pizza and checked into the campus dorms. During their stay, students had the opportunity to meet other AIS PREP site students and enjoy various activities the Student Union building had to offer. Bowling, billiards, and ping-pong were notably some of the kids favorites.
This trip also included a full fun-filled day of presentations from U staff and College of Science faculty, organized by Donna Eldridge, (Navajo/Diné), program manager of Tribal outreach for Health Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion. Speakers included Dr. Amy Sibul of the School of Biological Sciences, Paul Ricketts of the South Physics Observatory, Julie Callahan (Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa) of ASPIRE, Kyle Ethelbah (Western Apache), director of the U’s TRIO programs, and Dr. Ryan Stolley, (Choctaw), Organic Chemistry Professor. The students were able to explore the University of Utah's edible gardens, learn about pollination conservation, extract DNA from strawberries, witness a liquid nitrogen demonstration, and so much more. The evening concluded with dinner and a magical performance by Paul Brewer. Paul is a magician that has created a show based on STEM “magic”. This show is a combination of comedy and tricks that can all be explained through science, technology, engineering, or math. The students enjoyed their dinner and had a good laugh at Paul's onstage antics.
“These students come from some of the poorest reservations in the United States. This really is a trip of a lifetime for them,” said Meredith Little Lam, project and program manager at AIS and AIS scholarship alumnus.
The week concluded with a keynote address by Solight Design founder, Alice Min Soo Chun, who shared her personal journey of changing the world by inventing a portable solar light. She had used her intuition and origami skills learned as a child to create the Solar Puff. An invention that allows her to accomplish her mission to provide underserved communities with the resource of light, such as the many Native American reservations across the country that suffer from the lack of electricity. Each student received their own Solar Puff to take home, generously donated by Solight Design, and much like the other speakers, Alice left the students with encouraging words to continue on the path of higher education.
“You are all light warriors,” Chun said. “My hope is that you leave understanding how powerful you are and that you have the ability to change the world.”
Some students come from areas where there is no running water or electricity. Due to inadequate funding and resources for Native American youth, AIS PREP was developed to help address the dramatic disparities in graduation rates between native and non-native students. AIS PREP provides several locations that allow the students to remain close to home and still benefit from a quality education. An opportunity that AIS hopes will lead students to continue on and acquire the skills that may help their tribes thrive.
“The College of Science is honored to have taken part in celebrating this incredible accomplishment of completing AIS PREP,” said Cassie Slattery, director of special projects of the college. “We would be lucky to have any one of these exceptional students pursue science here at the U.”
If you would like to support STEM education for Native American youth, please consider making a donation to the AIS PREP program through American Indian Services.