“Lighting the Pathway to Faculty Careers for Natives in STEM” is a bold and innovative project to address the persistent underrepresentation of Indigenous people in STEM faculty positions at U.S. colleges and universities. This five-year pilot project, funded by the National Science Foundation, serves undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students in the biological sciences, mathematical and physical sciences, geosciences, computer and information science, and engineering. The first cohort of 30 students, recruited through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) from 27 institutions across the country, began in the fall of 2014. Currently 15 STEM faculty members, most of whom are Native American, serve as mentors to the student participants and each student is assigned to a faculty mentor. Through regular conversations one-on-one with mentors and through webinars and conferences, students receive guidance and encouragement in career development, including participation in summer research internships and writing graduate/postdoctoral fellowship applications. Frequent face-to-face and virtual meetings expose participants to topics such as balancing life and career, effective study habits, overcoming geographic and cultural isolation, graduate school and career preparation, strategies for success as a STEM major, integration of traditional culture with an academic career, and writing successful fellowship and grant applications. Short-term goals of the project are to help students to persist and succeed in their chosen fields and to continue on to the next step in the journey to a faculty position. The long-term goal is to increase the number of Native faculty members in STEM fields in higher education.
Mary Jo Ondrechen is Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Principal Investigator of the Computational Biology Research Group at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She earned the Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Her research activities currently include development and verification of a computational method to predict the function of protein structures of unknown function, prediction and verification of spatially extended active sites in enzymes, and the design of novel agents to detect early-stage cancer. A member of Mohawk Nation, she serves currently as President of the Board of Directors of the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) and served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) from 2011 to 2013. She is presently a Board member of the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE).