The National Science Foundation has awarded an additional nearly $10 million to build on the collaborative efforts of an existing partnership as part of an NSF-wide effort to address diversity, inclusion and participation challenges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at a national scale, a venture in which Dr. Ben Sayler of Black Hills State University has played an integral role.

The NSF award, titled, NSF INCLUDES Cultivating Indigenous Research Communities for Leadership in Education and STEM (CIRCLES) Alliance, will enhance preparation, increase participation, and ensure the inclusion of individuals from historically underrepresented groups in STEM careers.

Sayler, director of both the Center for the Advancement of Math and Science Education and the Sanford Science Education Center as well as a professor of physical science and mathematics at BHSU, is leading South Dakota EPSCoR’s collaboration with Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico in this project to increase the representation of American Indian and Alaska Native students in STEM disciplines and the workforce through STEM activities, mentoring, investments, pathways and instruction focused at the K-12 educational level.

“The CIRCLES Alliance has tremendous potential to support students historically underserved and underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math,” Sayler said. “South Dakota is fortunate to be part of this multi-state initiative. We have much to learn from indigenous communities that share South Dakota’s geography and much to learn across all the alliance states.”

Through the CIRCLES Alliance, researchers at the University of Idaho, Central Wyoming College, the University of New Mexico, BHSU, North Dakota State University and the University of Montana will build on strong, existing partnerships with tribal communities and colleges to study promising practices and areas of greatest need in STEM education for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. The CIRCLES Alliance states are home to 19 tribal colleges/universities (TCUs) and span 49 tribes/nations.

NSF has a long-standing commitment to developing a diverse, highly skilled American workforce. The NSF INCLUDES awards support education for pre-college students to post-doctoral fellows from historically marginalized and underserved communities and create opportunities that are accessible and inclusive.