We Must Go to Them
STEM Outreach to American Indian/Alaska Native Youth

SAME is pleased to announce a grant from the United Engineering Foundation to support a STEM outreach project focused on American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. Four posts have been selected to serve as pilot sites in the project (Anchorage, AK; Minot, ND; Albuquerque, NM; and Panama City, FL), with training provided by sustaining member, The NDN Companies. There will also be opportunities for additional SAME posts to participate.


“We must go to them.” That was the message we heard loud and clear when discussing STEM outreach to AI/AN communities with Leader Development Program participants (LDP) TJ Fakler, Colleen Rust, and Kevin Remley, as part of the LDP project component. “We must go to their communities to engage them. That means bringing them the camps, science fairs, scholarships, job trainings, and other resources that can help put AI/AN youth on a path to a STEM degree after high school.”

Underwritten by the SAME Foundation, LDP identifies and cultivates talent from within the SAME membership. A valuable component of the program is to identify and address a need within the Society or the A/E/C industry. Participants chose projects important to them. For TJ, Colleen, and Kevin, that meant bringing attention to the STEM outreach needs of AI/AN communities. See their initial flyer.

This project, and the UEF grant is the direct result of the initial investment of the SAME Foundation in the LDP.


SAME Foundation and UEF


Because of a mutual drive to support AI/AN communities in their areas, for the past several months, three members of the SAME Leader Development Program (LDP) researched ways to effectively engage AI/AN youth in STEM. Each member had an existing interest in reaching AI/AN audiences. Capt. Thomas Fakler, P.E., ARNG, is a civil engineer who grew up and is currently working in North Dakota. His experiences growing up near tribal lands and involvement in transportation projects across tribal lands taught him firsthand the importance of building relationships with local communities. Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Remley, P.E., USPHS, is employed by the Indian Health Service. At the time of the original project, he was working with the Shoshone-Bannock people in Idaho and is currently working with the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Colleen Rust, PMP, PG, CPG, is the Albuquerque Post Past-President. She is employed by Sundance Consulting, Inc., a Woman-Native American-Owned Small Business.

Their research showed that to be effective, organizations cannot have a one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to AI/AN communities. Each community has their own cultural identity and way of life. Engineers interested in STEM outreach to such communities need to work with local tribal leaders to develop customized outreach plans that incorporate the local cultures and priorities, and address barriers to engagement. A copy of the guidance document they developed is attached as Appendix A.

STEM engagement can serve as a key intervention in the academic trajectory of AI/AN youth. STEM engagement offers hands-on activities that build necessary skills. Coupled with mentoring and awareness of STEM careers, STEM engagement can ensure AI/AN youth know where to go after graduation. Those among the AI/AN population that choose to pursue STEM education opportunities stand a higher chance of succeeding economically, allowing them the ability to return and help improve conditions within their native communities.

SAME has a unique opportunity to create a national toolkit for STEM engagement that is modular and customizable to meet the needs of different communities. Such a strategy can lead to an increase in the meaningful STEM engagement by SAME’s 102 Posts with the over 500 federally-recognized tribes.

Engaging AI/AN Communities

This project will ultimately create a toolkit for STEM engagement that will help SAME posts answer key questions about how to engage with AI/AN communities. This won’t be a one-size-fits-all product, but instead, it will be a guidance manual, or road map, on how to explore key factors to establishing a relationship with a local AI/AN community.

Each of the four proposed project sites will conduct at least one community dialogue intended to build the support of local leaders and develop a plan most likely to impact the community. During the community dialogue(s), participants will discuss existing initiatives/resources already available within the community, as well as within the local SAME Post, in order to integrate them into the outreach plan. It may be that the best option for one location/tribe is to support STEM programs that are already in place in the AI/AN community but would benefit from engineer involvement. In another location, the best option might be to set up a one-day STEM camp/fair for families in the community to reach the highest number of individuals and provide the biggest impact. Yet another location may decide to host a multi-day STEM camp.

Toolkit Development

The toolkit will build on best practices identified by Lt. Cmdr. Remley, Ms. Rust, and Capt. Fakler as part of their SAME LDP research. Its development sequence will start with the lessons learned through the pilot sites.

1. Posts organize local community focus groups.
2. Posts solicit needs from local community groups.
3. Posts develop an outreach plan to address those needs (including a budget request to access grant funds).
4. Posts implement their outreach plans in coordination with the communities.
5. Lessons learned by all the sites are encapsulated in the toolkit and turned into general recommendations on how other posts can engage with their communities.

The final toolkit will involve a print and online resource, as well as recorded webinar trainings. Final development of these pieces will be guided by Shawna Newman, President, NDN Companies, and SAME member belonging to the Panama City Post. Ms. Newman created The NDN Companies in 2015 to focus on Native outreach and sensitivity training for organizations and military working within Indian Country. They have developed Tribal Sensitivity Trainings and conducted tribal meeting facilitation for The Red Cross, private companies, and the Department of Defense. Ms. Newman is of Chickasaw/Choctaw descent and understands the challenges and traditional sensitivities when working throughout Native communities. She was one of the individuals interviewed by the LDP team. (See Appendix D for the full planning team.)

Project Sites

SAME Post members will meet with AI/AN community leaders to determine STEM needs in the community. From that initial community dialogue, the Post and community will identify and conduct at least one outreach event customized for the community’s local cultures and priorities. The events could be anything from a STEM Day at a community center to a five-day camp. Where appropriate, stipends will be provided to participating students to offset work commitments and the purchase of outreach materials to be used throughout the year. Additional funds will be used to develop mentor training modules to instruct SAME engineer volunteers on working with AI/AN communities. The lessons learned from pilot outreach activities will be aggregated into a Toolkit for STEM Engagement that can be promoted to other SAME Posts and members of the engineering outreach community at large.

To support development of the toolkit, in addition to research on existing outreach program examples, SAME will support four pilot sites to serve as opportunities for research and development. The sites were chosen to allow for geographic and cultural diversity:

Albuquerque, NM
The Albuquerque Post will build relations with the Navajo and Pueblo Nations. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Post conducted mini-STEM camps for disadvantaged middle schools throughout Albuquerque.

Anchorage, AK
The Anchorage Post will build relations with the Ahtna Native Regional Corporation, members of which are primarily of the Athabaskan Nation. The Post has been active in STEM outreach during Engineers Week, sponsoring K-12 student competitions as well as event judges. They also support MATHCounts, an Architecture and Engineering Club, and a Robotics Club.

Minot, ND
The Minot Post will work to establish and build relationships with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. The close proximity to the Minot Post will allow outreach participants the ability to reach out on a regular basis and work with community leadership to determine the best approach for this location. This will be the Minot Post’s first outreach effort to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. The Minot Post currently conducts STEM activities on Minot Air Force Base, along with events associated with the City of Minot school system.

Panama City, FL
The American Indian population in Florida represents several different tribes. The Panama City Post has a history of working with the Florida Governors Council on Indian Affairs and has supported their STEM summer camp in the past. Ms. Newman, a member of the Post, taught the 2-week STEM program as a volunteer representing the Panama City Post. During the camp the students built and raced solar cars constructed from recycled materials.

Project Outreach 

Once the toolkit has been developed, SAME will promote it to all SAME posts as way of achieving Goal 4 of the strategic plan to “Enrich the STEM Pipeline for the Nation.”

SAME also participates in the American Society for Engineering Education Roundtable, a gathering of education contacts at engineering societies around the country. SAME will present on the toolkit at a future roundtable.

SAME has a standing partnership with National Society of Professional Engineer’s DiscoverE and will use this partnership to reach DiscoverE audiences and make the toolkit available to DiscoverE for training of their program volunteers.

Prior to finalizing the toolkit, SAME will exhibit at the Reservation Economic Summit (Res2022) to present the concept and get feedback from attendees on how to make the toolkit more useful to a variety of cultural settings and audiences.

Additional outreach partners include other organizations and companies working in AI/AN communities. As a tribally owned corporation, Four Tribes Enterprises has expressed interest in utilizing the toolkit to create local partnerships that support their 1,000 members in Northern California across four tribes: Mountain Maidu, Northeastern Paiute, Northern Washoe, and Eastern Pit River.

Why It Matters 

The need for greater STEM outreach to AI/AN youth is significant. The AI/AN population in the United States continues to lag the general population in education and economic prosperity. AI/AN youth need to be engaged in education, graduate from high school, and have a desire to pursue post-secondary education through trade schools or a formal college/university education. STEM engagement can offer that motivation.

According to “Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnics Groups 2018” (de Brey, Musu, McFarland, Wilkinson-Flicker, Diliberti, Zhang, Branstetter, and Wang, 2019):

  • In 2014, only 18% of AI/AN adults aged 25 and older completed high school.
  • From 2011 to 2012, only 47% of AI/AN students attended public high schools where the full range of mathematics, science, and other STEM related courses were offered.
  • Only 7 of 100 AI/AN kindergarten students will earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • In 2016, the total college enrollment rate was lowest for AI/AN at 19%, followed by Pacific Islander (21%), Black (36%), Hispanic (39%), White (42%), and Asian (58%).

Other sources also report bleak statistics:


Grant Period: January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022

January: Advisory committee meets to Identify key players at each site.

February: Initial community meetings are held at each site to inventory local programs/partners and understand the priorities of the community.

March: Each site develops a project team that will begin planning outreach activities, including developing an outreach calendar for the year.

April–October: Each site conducts outreach activities.

September/October: Planning teams assess lessons learned and best practices to incorporate into the toolkit.

October: Toolkit finalized.

November/DecemberToolkit is promoted to SAME posts.

Planning Team

Name Title Email Location
Devon Aldridge Flood Risk Program Manager
ABQ Post Secretary and STEM POC
devon.g.aldridge@usace.army.mil Albuquerque, NM
Liana Epstein Associate Major Gifts Officer
American Indian College Fund
Denver, CO
CPT Thomas Fakler, P.E. (original researcher) Civil Engineer
Fargo, ND
Col Don Lopez, P.E., USAF (Ret.) Practice Leader, Principal Geotechnical Engineer
Albuquerque, NM
Shawna Newman President
The NDN Companies
snewman@thendncompanies.com Jacksonville, FL
LT Kevin Remley, P.E. (original researcher) Sr. Environmental Engineer
Indian Health Service
kevin.remley@gmail.com Chubbuck, ID
LtCol Kimberly Riggs Civil Engineer
Alaska Air National Guard
kariggs@alaska.edu Anchorage, AK
Colleen Rust, PMP, PG, CPG (original researcher, Albuquerque POC) Project Manager
ABQ Post President
Sundance Consulting Inc.
crust@sundance-inc.net Albuquerque, NM
LT Kayla DeVault Wendt, MS, MPH, EI PACE SGET R8 Administrative Officer
EPAC Career Development Subcommittee
Big Sky COA Officership
SAME YP/Environmental COI Co-Liaison
US Public Health Service
kayla.devault@ihs.gov Billings, MT
Lori Kropidlowski, CF APMP, CPSM
(Anchorage POC)
Sr. BD & Marketing Group Manager
Ahtna Environmental, Inc.
lorik@ahtna.net Anchorage, AK
Jeannine Finton STEM Outreach Coordinator Jfinton@same.org Alexandria, VA



de Brey, C., Musu, L., McFarland, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Diliberti, M., Zhang, A., Branstetter, C., and Wang, X. (2019). Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018 (NCES 2019-038). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 7.30.2021 from https://nces.ed.gov/ pubsearch/

“Bridging the Computer Science Access Gap (Infographics)” Education Commission of the States, (August 2016). Retrieved 7.30.2021 from here.

“Native American Students in Higher Education,” Postsecondary National Policy Institute, 17 November 2020. Retrieved 7.30.2021 from here.

For more information

To learn more about the project, contact Jeannine Finton, STEM Outreach Coordinator.