The Need for AIS PREP

July 16, 2018

AIS PREP (American Indian Services Pre-Freshman Engineering Program) is a three year program that is available to students starting the summer after their sixth grade year, running for 6 weeks each summer, and teaches them in the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It not only provides these young children with advanced curriculum in these subjects, it also gives them the opportunity to see the positive aspects and joys of learning.

When I went to school on the reservation, I didn’t graduate with a strong background in science and math due to the insufficient curriculum in my high school. So when I went to college I had to start at a really low level for my math classes. I wanted to be a scientist, that was always my goal for what I wanted to be. But in order to become the hydro-scientist that I am, it took a couple extra semesters to gain the math skills from high school that I didn’t graduate with. For some reservation students like I was who are going on to college after receiving an insufficient math and science education, it might make them feel like it’s a little bit harder and would take more time to go into STEM subjects, so they choose other majors in college. However, I really wanted to become a hydro-scientist so I kept pushing and pushing and pushing. That four year degree became a five year degree because I had to gain that extra year of math that was lacking in my high school.

That’s where I see the difference between schools on the reservation compared to schools elsewhere, is in the curriculum for the math and sciences. But now AIS PREP is going into reservation communities and developing the math and science skills of middle school students, and I think it’s something that will be highly beneficial to them. That discouragement that some reservation students might feel toward becoming scientists, engineers, nurses, or doctors, etc. due to the gap in their math and science education will be reduced or even eliminated because AIS PREP is doing so much to close that gap. I can say as a PREP teacher and site director, these kids will be so much better prepared for college than I was.

The other thing that’s so important about AIS PREP is that they hire Native Americans like myself who have careers in the sciences, so they can serve as strong examples of what these young middle schoolers can achieve with an education. I recently went to a parent meeting and at the end of the meeting two of the parents came up to me with big smiles on their faces. They told me that they had visited a science museum in Albuquerque and had looked at some science websites and their daughter saw my and my sister’s pictures, and the work that we were doing as hydro-scientists in our communities and she said, “How cool would it be if I got to meet her and her sister to talk to them about the work they’re doing with their community, and how they have that love for their indigenous community but also have that love for science?”

When these students see a familiar face like myself, who could be their sister or their auntie or maybe even their mom, who is also somebody that they could aspire to be like is really important. Because for one, I went to the same schools that they’re going to so they can’t tell me that they can’t do it. And two, they can’t use their life experience as an excuse. As long as they put forth that effort and they continue to keep that desire within themselves, anything is possible. And as cliche as that might sound, that you’re the one in charge of your dreams, it’s actually true.

I see AIS PREP as being needed because there are a lot of programs that are available to these students that we’re trying to reach but they’re only for a few days or at most a couple of weeks during the summer. That’s a really insufficient amount of time to teach anyone anything, let alone difficult subjects such as algebra and engineering. At AIS PREP the program is for 3 summers, 6 weeks each, so we provide a much longer period of time for the students to come together.

You’ll often hear the phrase it takes 21 days to create a habit. Over the 6 week time period as we teach classes related to STEM, it’s really important that these students have this chance to develop these new skills and habits by participating in the rigorous curriculum at AIS PREP that will give them a strong work ethic. They learn that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to be successful, and they learn how to do that work. When they face a tough curriculum in high school and college they can take comfort in knowing that they already learned how to study, they learned how to take good notes, how to talk to instructors, how to ask for help, and also how tutoring works. So all of these little skills that they learn during the program are going to amount to big successes in their future.

I feel AIS PREP will help American Indian communities because these students who’ve learned STEM subjects will be able to come back and speak to issues that are relevant to the times we’re facing. We know that climate change is occurring and in the Southwest we’re seeing a huge change in our access to water. We often hear that in American Indian reservations there’s a lack of running water and that there are still homes that lack access to electricity. Children in the rising generation have an opportunity to have an influence on their communities through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and will be able to help create that infrastructure that is so needed in their indigenous communities. For example, we want to go into renewable energy because in the Southwest there’s an abundance of solar energy available. So learning how to create batteries that will store this energy, learning how to create more efficient solar panels, etc., will allow them to be able to help their communities to use better resources that are more efficient and cost effective. They’ll be able to propel this work forward because they’ll have the background and distinction needed to speak with authority on these subjects, and take the steps needed to create this change.

– Nikki Tulley



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