American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)
Nov. 2, 2006
If you were to step outside of this convention center and walk about five blocks, to the intersection of Bates and Congress streets, you would be standing on the site where the University of Michigan was founded in 1817.
The University of Michigan was given its first home because of your ancestors. What would become one of the world’s great research universities has its roots in a gift of land from tribes known as the People of the Three Fires. The Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi peoples donated this land so that their children might one day be educated at a university.
And now, some 189 years later, a president of the University of Michigan has the honor of standing before hundreds of American Indian students who are dedicating themselves to careers in science, medicine, engineering and technology.
There is no relationship of longer standing at our University than that with Native Americans. And there is no more critical time than now for American Indian students to be pursing degrees in engineering and science.
Our country is the best in the world at invention and scientific exploration. We are the very icons of risk-taking, social progress and economic success. At the University of Michigan alone, our scientists have discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, and our alumni are responsible for the iPod and Google.
But we have a problem. We are at risk as a nation if we do not commit to more innovation, more math and science, and more basic research.
We are a country desperate for more scientists and engineers—scientists and engineers who reflect the growing diversity of our nation. America is simply not producing enough graduates right now to replace the scientists and engineers that will retire by the end of this decade.
This conference is all about science for America’s future, and that future must be filled with doctors, engineers, scientists, and faculty who look like America.
Seeing the students in this hall gives me hope.
Your experiences and your perspectives as native peoples are terribly important to the worlds of science and technology. Diverse perspectives create diverse solutions, and you can make important contributions to creating solutions and developing cures for tomorrow’s world.
Let me give you two examples of how diversity makes a difference.
For years and years, federally funded research into heart disease focused solely on males, because it was assumed that heart disease affected only men. That changed in 1991, when Bernadine Healy, a cardiologist, became the first woman to direct the National Institutes of Health.
She made it a policy that the NIH would fund only clinical trials that included both men and women if the disease being researched affected both genders.
We suddenly had a wealth of new information about how medical conditions, including heart disease, affect women.
Closer to home, a radiologist at the University of Michigan, who is a member of the Sioux and Iowa Nations, is working to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Native American women.
Dr. Marilyn Roubidoux learned that while Native American women are less likely than other women to develop breast cancer, they are more likely to die of the disease. This may well be related to poor cancer screenings among Native American women—something Dr. Roubidoux and her colleagues are working to improve with online games that provide culturally relevant health information about the importance of mammograms.
I am thrilled that you have such a strong interest in science and technology, because they are amazing fields to explore. I fell in love with science as a high school student, pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in biochemistry, and spent more than 25 years in the laboratory. I loved every moment of it, and as a female scientist I believe I helped to open the eyes of my male colleagues and the way they approached their research.
I want to share with you some of the opportunities we are providing Native American students at Michigan. We are among the top five universities in the country for federally funded research, and I want that research to involve student of all backgrounds—it makes us a stronger university and it provides more perspectives for tackling the incredibly complex problems of today’s world.
The world of computer engineering and information technology is desperate for American Indian students, and the U-M has partnered with the National Science Foundation to help remedy this shortage.
This partnership is a result of the dedicated work of Dwight Gourneau, the former chair of AISES who also holds an honorary degree from the University of Michigan.
If you are a sophomore or a junior, we would love for you to spend a summer at Michigan in our new AISES Summer Research Fellowship Program in Electrical and Computer Engineering. You will spend 10 weeks living on campus and engaging in full-time research alongside a member of our faculty.
When you think about a career in computing, don’t limit yourself to only computer science, important as that field is. There are computing applications in the medical field, or in education and community-based organizations. Gavin Clarkson is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who can help you think about computer engineering applications in our School of Information, where he is a professor who looks at the ways technology, law, and commerce come together.
This AISES fellowship is part of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, which we call UROP and which places students alongside our best faculty and has an extraordinary track record of building tomorrow’s scientists and researchers.
We are proud of UROP because of the highly successful model it provides for showing students the power and promise of research. We are especially proud of the fact UROP engages Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans in research, creating an academic community that is supportive, thriving, and, most important, reflective of our future as a country.
We know the benefits of undergraduate research. If you yourself have been involved in lab work as a high school student or college undergraduate, you also know the benefits of research.
It results in better study habits and stronger relationships with faculty. It helps you as students become proactive and really shape the direction of your studies. And it is the determining factor in the decision to attend graduate school and pursue careers in science.
Another opportunity we are providing at Michigan is in our nationally ranked College of Engineering and its program in manufacturing engineering. This is cutting-edge technology that helps industry re-tool quickly to meet product demand—something that is ever more important in today’s manufacturing world. It involves creating new software and prototype machines, as well as hands-on experience.
We are partnering with tribal colleges to attract students to Ann Arbor to earn their bachelor’s degrees and continue on to graduate school. Students from California, New Mexico and Oklahoma have participated in the summer fellowship phase of this program, and several are in the process of transferring to Michigan.
We’re also partnering with tribal colleges in Michigan as part of a new program called the Jack Kent Cooke Community College Initiative. Our faculty and administrators are in the process of traveling to Michigan’s tribal colleges to learn how we can better serve students who want to transfer to Michigan, while at the same time letting students and their advisors know how best to prepare for U-M.
I am committed to seeing that we work with advisors and faculty at the tribal colleges so that students can successfully transfer to Michigan and earn a four-year degree.
Our School of Nursing is particularly interested in students from tribal colleges. One of every six students who transfer to Michigan from a community college or tribal college enrolls in nursing. Our School of Nursing believes strongly in training nurses to serve in rural and underserved communities, and is looking to students from tribal colleges to help develop this important pipeline.
There is one more program to tell you about, and that is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, or L-SAMP. Four Michigan universities have come together to say, “If we don’t educate more women and more minorities in math, science, engineering and technology, our nation is going to be beat on the world stage.”
Diversity in our workforce and among our scientific community is crucial for the country’s future economic vitality. And that diversity will not happen in the workforce unless it happens at our universities.
The University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State and Western Michigan University are building a strong network of talent and resources to ensure that tomorrow’s scientists, mathematicians and engineers are a talented, diverse community.
Our goal is to increase the number of under-represented minorities earning bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math areas by 50 percent in five years, and by 100 percent in 10 years.
Together, we are going to make a difference in the lives of our students — those enrolled today and those who will walk through our doors tomorrow. And we are going to make a difference in diversifying the economy of our nation. I wish I could stand here and tell you that all of these programs are easy successes, but they are not, because the goal of diversity in higher education is under attack in the state of Michigan.
I know many of you are visiting our state and may be unaware of a ballot initiative known as Proposal 2. If approved by Michigan voters this coming Tuesday, Proposal 2 will ban the use of affirmative action in all of our state’s public universities, as well as in state government hiring and contracting.
It will take our universities and our state in the wrong direction, and that will hurt our country.
We know from social science research that affirmative action works, and at U-M we believe so strongly in it that we fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend our use of it—a goal that a majority of justices agreed with.
Students learn better in a diverse class. They are more analytical, and more engaged. The teaching environment is more enlightening. The discussion is livelier and more often mirrors real-world issues. These students are more open to perspectives that differ from their own, and they are better prepared to become active players in our society.
Students who learn in diverse classrooms know how to take that cross-cultural understanding into America’s businesses, industries and neighborhoods. Corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations have a vested interest in our ability to attract and retain a highly qualified, and richly diverse, student body.
Proposal 2 would obliterate that.
If you live in Michigan, I urge you to educate yourself about Proposal 2 and its serious implications. For example, here is a potential outcome that surprises many people: This initiative, if approved by voters, would prohibit our highly successful efforts to recruit women faculty in science and engineering—just at a time when our country needs all the talented science professionals we can get!
If you live in another state, please pay attention to the Michigan polls. Because I guarantee you, regardless of whether this flawed initiative passes or fails here, its organizers will move on to another state, and we cannot allow the divisiveness unfolding in Michigan to be repeated elsewhere.
I also guarantee you, regardless of what happens with Proposal 2, I remain fully and completely committed to diversity at the University of Michigan. Fully, and completely, committed.
I learned an important lesson on the steps of the Supreme Court: The power of our voice matters. Our persistence, and our unwillingness to accept anything less than broad diversity on our campuses, sends a strong message in this country.
We cannot do this alone. AISES plays a vital role in increasing the presence of native students in science, engineering and technology. The Indian tribes of this state stood with the University of Michigan in our legal fight for affirmative action, and we will always value that partnership. It is a partnership that began when those same tribes granted the land for the founding of our great university.
In ruling in the University’s favor, the Supreme Court said, “The path to leadership must be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.”
Please remain by our side, remain vigilant and vocal, and together we will continue to forge that path for generations to come.