Mays Hosts Indigenous STEM Affinity Group

Civil engineering associate professor David Mays has formed an affinity group within the National Science Foundation’s INCLUDES program, where INCLUDES stands for Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers of Engineering and Science. This affinity group brings together principal investigators (PIs), evaluators, and NSF program officers interested in Indigenous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), where the term Indigenous comprises the terms Native American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Hawaiian Native.

Mays writes, “Under the leadership of NSF director France Córdova, INCLUDES has been designated as one of NSF’s Ten Big Ideas. I am happy to be involved with this effort, because it builds on my prior experience with Teach for America and with my interest in sharing quality engineering education with anyone and everyone. Forming the Indigenous STEM affinity group made a lot of sense, because we can learn a lot from colleagues at other institutions who are united by a common awareness of the value of Indigenous STEM.”

Mays is co-PI on an INCLUDES design and development grant, active from 2018-2019, to build a network of tribal and government partners for Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands. Mays continues, “This undergraduate certificate program, spearheaded by PI and biology associate professor Timberley Roane, is a first-of-its kind program designed to provide students with training in STEM, plus additional training in cross-cultural communication, historical awareness, and facilitation designed to prepare graduates for careers as tribal liaisons. It’s a unique program designed to fill a known gap in our educational system.” Other co-PIs include Grace RedShirt Tyon, director of CU Denver’s American Indian Student Services; Brenda Allen, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion; and Rafael Moreno-Sanchez, environmental science associate professor.

Mays, Roane receive NSF INCLUDES award

David Mays, associate professor of civil engineering, and Timberley Roane, associate professor of integrated biology, received one of 27 National Science Foundation INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) award for their project “Building a Network for Education and Employment in Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands.” NSF INCLUDES awards aim to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM discoveries and innovations through a commitment to diversity and inclusion. This is the second year of awards for INCLUDES, one of NSF’s “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments.”


For the United States to maintain its leading role on the world economic stage, it is essential to strengthen the American workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Our current prosperity and our future success hinge on recruiting, training, and employing the creative and industrious STEM professionals who drive the innovation economy. Strengthening the American STEM workforce depends, in part, on broadening participation to students from demographics that have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM. This NSF INCLUDES Launch Pilot project will foster recruitment, training, and employment for indigenous STEM students, where the term “indigenous” comprises the terms Native American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Hawaiian Native. Specifically, this project will support the design and development of a first-of-its-kind network focused on environmental stewardship of indigenous lands. The network will comprise both tribal and government partners and will be organized by three faculty at the University of Colorado-Denver. Student recruitment, training, and employment will be organized around the unifying principle of land stewardship. The focus on land stewardship has been selected not only because it demands the expertise of STEM professionals, but also because land stewardship is among the top motivations for indigenous students considering STEM careers. Accordingly, this work is important on several fronts: It addresses the recognized need for STEM professionals; it broadens participation to students from underrepresented groups; and it provides a test bed for collective action by a first-of-its-kind network of tribal, government, and university partners.

The proposed network will work together to design, deploy, and debug a unique educational program giving students an opportunity to train for employment as tribal liaisons in the environmental field. In particular, this program will address the need for culturally-sensitive, scientifically-trained individuals who can serve as tribal liaisons between tribal and non-tribal organizations, which will allow them to prevent, minimize, or manage environmental incidents through their understanding of STEM principles and organizational dynamics. All students in this educational program will earn a regular four-year STEM degree, but a key feature of the program is that they will also participate in training and internships designed to provide background with nontechnical matters such as cultural awareness, environmental regulations, and organizational dynamics. Additionally, this educational program is designed to support recruitment of indigenous students by (1) providing a clear vision of a high-impact, culturally-relevant professional career and by (2) providing a cultural connection with obtaining a college degree. Taken together, the network aims to increase enrollment, retention, graduation, and alumni activity by indigenous students. Best practices and strategies for collective impact will be used to document achievement of the network in increasing the enrollment, retention, graduation, and alumni activity of indigenous students in higher education and in STEM careers. Continuous feedback will be collected to assess partner engagement and durability, and student satisfaction, performance, and progress. The network is expected to be sustainable because it addresses a demonstrated need; it is expected to be scalable because scientifically aware, culturally-sensitive individuals who can serve as tribal liaisons are needed not only regionally, but nationally.

Read more about NSF INCLUDES.

Congratulations David and Timberley.