Dot Harris, Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, speaks about her engineering career to Native American students at the Intertribal Youth Summit on July 30. | Photo Credit: AnneMarie Ashburn, Department Of Energy.
As the Director at the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, one of my favorite aspects of my job is encouraging new generations of students to become engaged in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and our all-out, all-of-the-above American energy strategy.
This is a particularly strong need for American Indian students in Indian Country and urban communities. Many tribal lands are situated on great natural resources like coal, oil, and renewable technologies, but Native Americans pay some of the highest rates for fuel and electricity and a high percentage of un-electrified and un-weatherized homes.
American Indian students, whether enrolled in undergraduate or in K-12, need to acquire the education and skills to enter careers in STEM fields to have an impact on their energy futures. Students often recognize the importance of reinvesting their knowledge in STEM back into their home communities, bringing their skills back to their home tribes or urban neighbors.
On Monday, I attended the 2012 InterTribal Youth Summit in Maryland to discuss the benefits of STEM education to youth from Tribal Nations around the United States. I was joined on a panel by two very talented engineers: Noller Herbert, a conservation engineer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency, and Stan Atcitty, an engineer with Sandia National Laboratories’ Wind Technology Program. We had a great time with the students discussing our experiences as engineers and the importance of students becoming more interested in STEM.
STEM is near and dear to my heart as I am an engineer by trade. I graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of South Carolina and an M.S. in Technology Management from Southern Polytechnic State University. Engineering has greatly enhanced my critical thinking and analytical skills and has afforded me the flexibility to work in various aspects of the energy field. I encouraged the students at the workshop yesterday to become trailblazers, jump into new opportunities and break barriers as they move forward.
Dr. Atcitty knows what it’s like to break barriers as a Native American engineer. This year marked his 17th year at Sandia National Laboratories, where he works day in and day out to assist reservations and communities like the one he grew up in to acquire more cost effective and accessible energy. He is a member of the Navajo Tribe and grew up on the Diné Reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico. Dr. Atcitty has won numerous awards including four awards for his technologies from R&D Magazine and an award from President Obama for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Likewise, Noller Herbert, also a member of the Navajo Nation who is using his engineering skills to conserve the land and sovereignty of tribal nations, believes that Native American students should work hard to get into STEM fields to make a difference for the next generation.
I hope that stories like Stan’s and Noller’s help to inspire more Native American students to consider STEM careers. Once they do, there are plenty of challenging opportunities are awaiting them.