Alaska: Snow, ice, darkness. Hoping to shed light, open doors, plant seeds, & fertilize soil.

Today I am in Alaska where there is a 4 hour time difference between here and the east coast. I was a speaker for the GEM GRADLab at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s annual conference.    It has been cold and dark, but it’s worth it if people in my workshop are able to use the information to move to the next level. I told the students at AISES that it’s time for them to stop being a “*” in the data. A “*” in the data charts means that the numbers are too low to be counted.  In 2010, there were 47,069 people who earned doctorates in all fields. How many were American Indian or Alaska Natives? 122! That’s only .26%. That’s right, less than 1%. (SOURCE:  NSF/NIH/USED/USDA/NEH/NASA, 2010 Survey of Earned Doctorates.)

There are so many people in the country who have privilege, yet so many people who don’t. We have so many people in our country who are brilliant, but who don’t have access to resources. One thing that I’ve learned about mentoring is that it is needed at every level. We can’t just have resources for under-served populations at K-12 and then stop there. Why? Because there is still work to be done at the college level and we can’t work so hard to get people into college and then just leave them without guidance or resources to succeed. Along the same lines, you can’t stop at undergrad, because graduate school is a whole new ballgame. You can’t work hard to put kids through college and then get them to grad school and leave them there without guidance. Earlier this week in Tampa, FL, Dr. Eric Jolly (Cherokee), President of the Science Museum of Minnesota, said that “it’s not enough to plant seeds, you have to create a good environment.” These words, spoken at the SREB Compact for Faculty Diversity/Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, really stuck with me. As a university administrator, I now work with students and faculty and see myself as one who plants seeds, but I also work to improve the environment so that the seeds can flourish. We can’t invest all of our time and energy into cultivating beautiful seeds without making sure that they can grow. They need water and good soil. We can’t throw good seeds into a sandy desert.  I hope that over time, there will be many strong seeds from underrepresented groups, and that I can both water the seeds and help to cultivate richer soils.