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News Release 14-100

NSF funds pilot project aimed at increasing the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives faculty members

Innovative pilot project will encourage American Indian and Alaskan Native students studying STEM disciplines to qualify for tenured faculty positions

Student standing at poster and talking to 3 other people

A graduate student discusses a poster presentation of her research at the 2012 AISES conference.

August 18, 2014

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a new pilot project designed to increase the representation of American Indian and Alaska Natives in tenure track positions.

This pilot project will provide varied types of supportive resources to a select group of American Indian and Alaska Native students who are studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) at U.S. colleges and universities. These resources will provide participating students with motivating encouragement, practical skills and intellectual experiences that will help compel them to stay in their chosen STEM field--so that they will earn the necessary academic credentials to land tenure track positions at U.S. colleges and universities.

NSF is awarding $1.5 million over five years to the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) to implement the pilot program, which is called "Lighting the Pathway to Faculty Careers for Natives in STEM."

A trailblazing program

"'Lighting the Pathway' is innovative because it will be comprehensive and national in scale and will provide many and varied types of support to American Indian and Alaska Native students," said NSF Director France A. Córdova.

Throughout the five year duration of "Lighting the Pathway," this pilot project will be rigorously evaluated in order to help identify its most effective interventions. Because the results of such evaluations may help guide future decisions about investments in this and/or other projects, "Lighting the Pathway" may serve as a valuable model for programs preparing students of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds for academic careers.

The need for the program

Evidence of the national need for "Lighting the Pathway" includes data from NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, which indicates that American Indians and Alaska Natives accounted for less than .1 percent of science, engineering and health doctorates employed in science and engineering occupations in U.S. universities and four-year colleges as of 2010--the most recent year for which data is available.

Program participants

Applicants to "Lighting the Pathway" must be studying a STEM discipline--such as biology, computer science, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, geology or astronomy--at any academic level from the undergraduate level to the post-doc level. AISES will use its nationwide network to target American Indians and Alaska Natives for consideration for the project, but no one will be excluded from consideration based on their ethnic background. Thirty students representing all STEM disciplines will be selected by an AISES committee for the first year of "Lighting the Pathway."

As a pilot project, "Lighting the Pathway" is slated to last five years. During this period, at least 72 students are expected to be directly supported by the project.

Program benefits

Each Pathway student will receive face-to-face mentoring from a role model who: 1) is either an American Indian or Alaska Native or is familiar with issues relevant to these underrepresented groups; and 2) has earned a PhD--and preferably also holds a tenured faculty position. In addition, Pathway students will be offered research experiences and opportunities to present their research results at appropriate scientific conferences.

Also, Pathway students will attend monthly virtual seminars covering: 1) relevant scientific topics; 2) academic topics, such as maintaining a good academic record and applying to graduate school; 3) cultural topics, such as integrating indigenous cultures with Western ways; and 4) career topics such as balancing career and life and writing resumes. Further, they will be trained in leadership and communication skills, and attend the National AISES Conference to network with Native faculty and participate in other career-boosting activities.

Pathway students will receive the most intensive training and support during their first two years in the project, and then receive continued mentoring for remaining years of the project.

The varied types of training and culturally sensitive support offered by "Lighting the Pathway" and the project's use of the broad-based community provided by AISES, a well-established and engaged organization, will encircle each Pathway student with resources-both geographically and intellectually.

Funding from multiple directorates

Because of the multidisciplinary nature of "Lighting the Pathway," the project will be funded by multiple NSF directorates. These directorates are Biological Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Education and Human Resources, Engineering, Geosciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences.


Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8310, email:

Program Contacts
Sarah Echohawk, AISES, (72) 552-6123, email:
Sally O'Connor, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-4552, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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