NASA grant takes students to California

From left: Sinte Gleska University students Karen Moore and Dakota Young and their instructor Dana Gehring visit with Dr. Annie Rowe in the Microbiology lab at the University of Southern California.
Credit: 
Bree Oarman

Education is a big part of Sanford Lab’s mission. That’s why members of Sanford Lab’s Education and Outreach Department spend a lot of time working with students and teachers across the state.

Recently, Bree Oatman, STEM Education Specialist at Black Hills State University (BHSU), accompanied a group of students and faculty from Sinte Gleska University (SGU) to California. They visited the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at California Technology Institute (Caltech), the University of Southern California (USC) and the NASA Ames Research Facility. The trip was funded through a grant from NASA EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). 

“We wanted the students and teachers to meet some of the scientists who are involved in the life underground experiments taking place at Sanford Lab and expose them to a variety of disciplines in science and engineering,” Oatman said. “They had a chance to meet people and get a better understanding of the research being done at Sanford Lab.” 

Students toured JPL’s facilities, including clean rooms where scientists build experiments and test new technologies. They learned the history of JPL, which can be traced to the mid-1930s when a few Caltech students and amateur rocket enthusiasts started tinkering with rockets, and talked with scientists about space exploration.

EPSCoR focuses on establishing partnerships with government, higher education and industry to improve and enhance research. The program also targets underserved populations through Capacity Building, which is designed to develop research in rural areas. 

“A lot of tribal colleges have limited resources and equipment,” Oatman said. She applied for and received a Capacity Building Grant, which will allow SGU to buy basic equipment to help faculty teach simple biotech activities in the classroom. “As we walked through USC’s laboratories, we were thinking about the Sinte Gleska environment and what it could become.”

And the students, Oatman added, were thinking about their summer research projects. “They’re tying to figure out which topics they want to explore.” The Capacity Building Grant includes stipends for summer research, which can be done on the Rosebud Reservation where SGU is located. 

The next step, Oatman said, is to find out exactly what SGU needs to upgrade their facilities. “There is great potential for future collaborations. It’s really what Capacity Building is all about.”