After a moving comment from a friend on Pine Ridge and a fortuitous conversation with a Northwestern University graduate student (and lots of conversations with NU faculty), it became clear that the Department of Physics & Astronomy would be amenable to hosting STEM weekends for Lakota girls. With months and months of planning, involvement from the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) and involvement and a grant from the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI), donations from the Society of Physics Students, and commitment from graduate students, postdocs, and faculty, we were ready to hit the ground running in September 2018. Unfortunately, extenuating circumstances prevented our first Lakota cohort’s participation, and the weekend was instead offered to half a dozen Bad River Ojibwe girls (see a write-up here, page 6). Following the success of our pilot run, and with an additional grant from CNAIR, we immediately began planning for our Lakota guests to arrive in March 2019. From March 29 – April 1, 2019, we hosted six middle-school age girls from Little Wound School and their chaperones for a taste of college (astro)physics with a centerpiece event that focused on the girls sharing Native star knowledge. The girls participated in citizen science research, went into the city for a private tour of the Space Visualization Lab at the Adler Planetarium, had a sleepover in the dome of the largest operating refracting telescope in the world, heard professors lecture on topics ranging from cognition to stellar death, and left with connections to aid them in every step of their educational path. (You can see a write up of the event here — page 6 again, or can listen to the LCEP founder speak on these initiatives at a CNAIR symposium from May 2019 below.)
The structure is now firmly enough in place to be replicated: There was enough Department of Physics & Astronomy interest that another graduate student has taken up the mantle to try to make this initiative a reality again in the future. With continued support from OIDI and CNAIR, it is completely promising that these “Stellar STEM Weekends” will be run at NU for years to come. As for the LCEP’s next steps in this arena, we’re now in a connection-building phase on a different coast, exploring options to determine the best way forward. Check back here and on Facebook for the most immediate updates about our plans! To see for yourself how our March 2019 event went, click through the slideshow below (hover over or click on the image to reveal the caption)!