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ESIL faculty publish first refereed paper*

A group of six coauthors from CU Denver’s Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands (ESIL) certificate program has recently published their first refereed paper in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning. This paper explains how the Indigenous Evaluation Framework, which emphasizes responsiveness to local traditions and cultures, has been applied to ESIL since its official kickoff in fall 2018.

Why did the team start with a methods paper on evaluation? Evaluation is essential and particularly so with innovative programs, such as ESIL, whose mission is “to broaden participation of Indigenous students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through education and community partnerships that promote healing and stewardship of Native land.” Because this mission goes beyond the traditional scope of science and engineering, ESIL works with a team of professional program evaluators from The Evaluation Center at CU Denver to identify—in real time—what is working and what needs to change. But traditional evaluation methods, based on anonymous surveys administered by disinterested evaluators, can make programs feel judgmental rather than welcoming. Accordingly, early in its program development, ESIL realized that it would need innovative evaluation.

Civil engineering professor and coauthor David Mays explains it this way: “We have learned a lot through ESIL, and we have several manuscripts in preparation, covering our program structure, our monthly workshops, and our collective impact with community partners. But we had to write the evaluation paper first, because evaluation is the method that brings out our many lessons learned. All these other papers will cite this first one on evaluation.”

Since fall 2021, ESIL has been part of a multi-institutional partnership, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, called the Native FEWS Alliance. The mission of the Native FEWS Alliance is “Significantly broadening the participation of Native American students in Food, Energy, and Water Systems (FEWS) education and careers to address critical challenges facing their communities.” The backbone organization of that alliance is the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Mays adds, “Little did we know, when we submitted our evaluation manuscript in December 2020, that six months later we would be collaborating with AIHEC, the very people who created the Indigenous Evaluation Framework.”

Questions about this work may be directed to Professor Mays. The paper is open-access, so it is freely available to anyone with an Internet connection:

Velez, C., B.M. Nuechterlein, S.C. Connors, G. RedShirt Tyon, T.M. Roane, and D.C. Mays (2022), Application of the Indigenous evaluation framework to a university certificate program for building cultural awareness in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Evaluation and Program Planning, 92, 102066,

*Editor’s Choice selected article

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At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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