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Native American STEM Mentors
May 2021


"What does the research say about designing and implementing STEM mentoring programs in Native American communities?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Chelberg, K. L., & Bosman, L. B. (2019). The role of faculty mentoring in improving retention and completion rates for historically underrepresented STEM students. International Journal of Higher Education, 8(2), 39–48.

From the Abstract:
"There is a growing recognition of the need for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers who provide diverse perspectives enabling companies to keep up with the demands of the 21st-century workforce. Creating a diverse workforce requires improving access to STEM education for historically underrepresented students, including low-income students and first-generation students. However, significant challenges and barriers exist. The purpose of this paper is to showcase an innovative approach to mentoring historically underrepresented STEM students which integrates photovoice and photo-elicitation. This new approach in mentoring takes student ‘participation’ one step further by asking students to document and share their lived experiences through photographs (e.g., photovoice). Then, photo-elicitation is used to further engage students in discussing what led to their subsequent empowerment in leveraging successes or overcoming barriers. The study was conducted with 19 participants who were primarily American Indian students attending a small college in Wisconsin, USA. The findings suggest students benefited from the mentoring program and perceived it as an enriching learning experience which aided in goal development, accountability, and an opportunity to learn more about strategies for student success. The implementation of this new approach and the results gathered from this study are important as they may inform educational leaders and postsecondary institutions serving historically underrepresented STEM students on supports and strategies that could be carried out on their campuses."

Koomen, M. H., Hedenstrom, M. N., & Moran, M. K. (2021). Rubbing elbows with them: Building capacity in STEM through science and engineering fairs. Science Education, 105(3), 541-579. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Using social cultural career theory (SCCT) linked with tenets of equity, we examined the role of participation in science and engineering fairs (SEFs) on youth's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educational and career choices. We analyzed data for evidence of the SCCT constructs of self-efficacy, interest, and learning experiences using constructs of Native American (NA), culturally responsive, and rural equitable pedagogies. Qualitative data included semi-structured interviews, focus groups, practice presentations of SEF projects, classroom observations, and mentoring students. Quantitative data consisted of two surveys: STEM Semantics Survey and the Motivation Strategies for Learning Questionnaire. Qualitative results reveal how the teacher built self-efficacy using equitable pedagogy by putting the students in control of their projects, created a network of experts in various science disciplines, developed a culture of mentorship that promoted belonging, and removed barriers for student participation by blending academics with culture for NA and rural mixed socioeconomic status students. She evoked asset-based pedagogies that inspired students to further their education and go into STEM fields. Quantitative findings reveal former student's orientation to participation in science fair activities related to their high interests, perceptions of a challenge, curiosity, and emerging mastery, where students demonstrated high dispositions in science and engineering and self-identified as STEM people. Implications include the use of SCCT, linked with equitable pedagogies to understand interest in STEM fields, mentoring, tapping into the expertise of local professionals to support development of projects, and navigating cultural barriers to provide access for underrepresented youth."

McMurtry, J. R., Arouca, R. A., & Thomas, A. (2019). Developing an Indigenous knowledge field camp. New Directions for Higher Education, 2019(187), 55-65. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This chapter describes a field-based experience based on Native American best mentoring practices that brings together traditional ecological knowledge and Western science to build relationships and understanding between Native students and faculty mentors."

Pryce, J., & Aschenbrener, C. (2019). Mentoring for American Indian and Alaska Native youth. Boston, MA: National Mentoring Resource Center. Retrieved from

From the Document:
"This review describes information to consider when developing and implementing mentoring programs for Native youth. Historically, many Native communities have been affected by assimilationist policies and programs that separated children from their families (e.g., boarding schools and foster care/adoption programs). As a result, programs should be aware of the potential for cultural mistrust, which could pose challenges to engaging in relationships with mentors who come from outside the community. Therefore, mentoring programs should carefully consider recruitment, engagement, and retention efforts that include incorporating the cultural perspective and family and community support, as well as collaborative relationships with existing and trusted agencies. Preparing mentors to understand the importance of building and maintaining trust, and operating from a strengths-based and culturally attuned perspective, may be critical elements of mentoring programs for this population. Native communities often place a strong value on inclusion of family and community members, and programs may capitalize on this value as a means of engaging family and community members to serve as supportive role models and advisers for the youth, and/or to support mentor-mentee relationship of mentors drawn from outside the community. Other elements to consider include incorporating culturally related activities, such as traditional games and historical storytelling, which can advance the cultural identity of the youth and help teach them tools used to thrive within, and outside, their communities. In mentoring work with Native youth, it is critical to provide healthy, supportive role models, keeping in mind that the program context may be situated in an environment with overlapping social problems influenced by experience of historical trauma."

Stevens, S., Andrade, R., & Page, M. (2016). Motivating young Native American students to pursue STEM learning through a culturally relevant science program. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 25(6), 947-960. Full text available at:

From the Abstract:
"Data indicate that females and ethnic/race minority groups are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce calling for innovative strategies to engage and retain them in science education and careers. This study reports on the development, delivery, and outcomes of a culturally driven science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) program, "iSTEM," aimed at increasing engagement in STEM learning among Native American 3rd-8th grade students. A culturally relevant theoretical framework, Funds of Knowledge, informs the "iSTEM" program, a program based on the contention that the synergistic effect of a hybrid program combining two strategic approaches (1) in-school mentoring and (2) out-of-school informal science education experiences would foster engagement and interest in STEM learning. Students are paired with one of three types of mentors: Native American community members, university students, and STEM professionals. The "iSTEM" program is theme based with all program activities specifically relevant to Native people living in southern Arizona. Student mentees and mentors complete interactive flash STEM activities at lunch hour and attend approximately six field trips per year. Data from the "iSTEM" program indicate that the program has been successful in engaging Native American students in "iSTEM" as well as increasing their interest in STEM and their science beliefs."

Windchief, S., & Brown, B. (2017). Conceptualizing a mentoring program for American Indian/Alaska Native students in the STEM fields: A review of the literature. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 25(3), 329-345. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"In order to address the disparity of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) doctorates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), culturally congruent mentorship program development is needed. Because traditional Western academic paradigms are typically constrained to a non-Indigenous perspective, the authors question how American Indian graduate students in STEM can successfully navigate graduate education with their cultural identity intact. Our review and synthesis of the literature addresses this question by considering 60 data sources that include peer-reviewed articles, personal communication with professionals working in the field of AI/AN academic success, and professional training literature. Our synthesis demonstrates that there is a dearth of Indigenous participation in the STEM fields that needs to be addressed by instituting a bicultural paradigm. This paradigm includes incorporating traditional academic mentoring into Indigenous values and kinship structures. A conceptual model is offered that delineates information necessary to conceptualize and develop an Indigenous mentoring program."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: ("Native American" OR "American Indian" ) AND mentor? AND (STEM OR technology)

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.