Three organizations hosted a conference this week at Fort Lewis College to discuss best practices to help Native American students become more involved in computer science learning opportunities.
Google accompanied by American Indian Science and Engineering Society and Computer Science Teachers Association put on the event Sunday through Monday.
“What a great opportunity to bring all four states together, where the desert meets the mountains, to learn about the interrelationship between language, culture, and computer science,” said Tina King-Washington, Ute Mountain Ute Tribal member in a news release.
The focus of the event was driven by the lack of Native American representation in the science, technology, engineering and math education, computer science, and engineering workforces. According to a news release for the event, Native Americans continue to be the lowest of any demographic group entering those fields.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that Native Americans and Alaska Natives represent only 0.4% of all bachelor’s degrees earned in engineering, 0.3% of the engineering workforce and just 0.1% of engineering faculty, despite accounting for 1.2% of the United States’ total population.
The National Science Foundation’s State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2022 Report found that Native American or Alaska Native employees with a bachelor’s degree or higher comprised just 0.2% of the STEM workforce in 2019. In addition, Native Americans or Alaska Natives are the only racial demographic that has not seen growth in workforce participation since 2010.
“There is a lack of resources in many of these communities and a lack of teacher support,” said Google West Regional Outreach Lead Shawdee Monroe. “Oftentimes, teachers are spread out and far apart from one another. They need opportunities to connect, grow, and learn from one another to better understand how to approach computer science education from an Indigenous perspective.”
More than 170 educators from all grade levels attended the event, which provided an opportunity to learn approaches for instructing computer science in a culturally responsive manner through interacting with Native American language and culture. Educators from Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Nevada participated in the event.
It was part of the Grow with Google initiative, which aims to help students explore, advance and succeed with the technical skills of the future.
“Coming off the heels of the pandemic, where K-12 educators were tasked with supporting students through a variety of challenges, this conference provides a chance for educators to focus on their own learning,” said Bhavna Chhabra, senior director and Boulder site lead for Google in a news release. “Diversifying the next generation of engineers is vital to ensuring technology continues to be a tool for all.”
Monroe said the biggest takeaway from the event was that the foundation of computer science education is being developed in schools serving Native American students.
“To scale these examples of success, we need to drive ongoing exposure, learning opportunities and build a sustainable community that can share best practices,” she said. “Attendance for this year’s conference far exceeded expectations. Organizers initially thought 50 might attend, but registration surpassed 175.”
She added that STEM and computer science educational opportunities can improve by cultivating a community for Native American students in both rural and urban areas.
Other key takeaways from the event were that educators learned how to use computer science as a tool for language and cultural preservation such as documenting oral history.