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Clarkson University Summer Programs Help Native American Students Explore Engineering, Technology Interests

In the grass just outside of the Hamlin-Powers residential dorms on the campus of Clarkson University, under clear skies and the cool evening air, the young and old moved and danced in two circles --one inside the other- in opposite directions.

The outer circle of people, some barefooted, moved to the right. This, said the Iroquois dance leader beforehand, represented the good things in life. In the inner circle, others moved to the left, which represented the not-so-good things in life. To the beat of a small drum and the chants of Native American song, these two circles of the young and the old acknowledged that balance of life.

This was an Iroquois social dance, and in keeping with the "social" part, the 40 Native American students on the Clarkson campus for joined students from Upward Bound programs at SUNY Potsdam, St. Lawrence University and SUNY Plattsburgh.

It was one of many activities the Native American students have been doing for the last four weeks as part of the annual College Enrichment Program (CEP). The program is a joint effort of Clarkson University and the national organization AISES (American Indian Student Engineering Society). While here, the 40 high school students from tribes all over the United States have been taking classes that integrate math, problem solving, logic and computers.

Clarkson offers two multi-week programs for students. The Math and Engineering Program (MEP), open to rising juniors and seniors in high school, utilizes engineering applications in the study of civil, mechanical and environmental engineering, all from a hands-on standpoint. Students also participate in an entrepreneurship class designed to introduce basic business concepts.

The Math and Media Technology Program (MMTP) is a communications-based program, utilizing oral, written and technical media including electronic text, graphics, sound, animation and full-motion video. The program helps students understand technical and communications concepts --using them to create communications that solve problems-- and to understand the implications of technologies for human communication. It is open to rising seniors in high school or rising freshmen in college who were previous MEP participants and are maintaining a "B" average or higher.

Both programs also include a personal enrichment/leadership training component that supports the academic curriculum and addresses issues of concerns to teenagers. Each program is funded through grants from various foundations, corporations and agencies.

These programs afford students a chance to get in touch with their culture through intercultural activities and other events,said Vicki Clark, assistant to the director of the Pipeline of Educational Programs (PEP).

Many of them have said that this was something they wanted to do-interact with students from other tribes, she said.

In addition to students from inside New York state, the program boasts students from as far away as Alaska, Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina and other states. Clark said about 25% of the students are participating in the AISES program for the first time, and for 15% of them, it is their first trip out of state.

Those who are here are learning a lot-and not just in the classroom.

I've always been involved in groups and activities at school, said Justin Magee of Tahlequah, Okla., "but usually I'm just along for the ride. Here, it's been more of a challenge to step up. I've had the chance to do that here."

Magee, a member of the Chitimacha tribe, will be a senior in the fall at Sequoiah High School. He hopes to attend either Louisiana Tech, Louisiana State, or the University of Southern Louisiana.

Magee said the program was important to him because it gave him and other students a chance to get away from home "and to learn whatever the curriculum has to offer. It's fun, it's tiring, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

For Ta-Shina Williams, being in the relative quiet of upstate New York required some getting used to.

It's a big difference from the city, said the Philadelphia, Miss., native, who now lives in New Orleans and attends Benjamin Franklin High School, where she is a senior. "I'm used to cars and loud noises. Here, it's really quiet, but I like it."

Williams, who is Choctaw, wants to study sports medicine at either UCLA, the University of Southern California, or Stanford, with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. The best thing about the camp, she said, is meeting some of her peers.

You get to see where they come from, how they live, how it compares to how you live, she said. "You sit there and think that you're the only person going through things, and you get to meet these kids and you actually come to a realization that it's really not that bad."

Jimmy Oxendine is back for his second year with the program, participating in the Math & Media Tech camp after being in the Math & Engineering Program last year.

We have more responsibilities, said Oxendine, of Fairmont, N.C., who is a member of the Lumbee tribe. "We go to different classes, we have presentations to present to the MEP (Math & Engineering Program) students."

Part of Oxendine's work also includes using a video camera to record some of the events that go on during camp. The pictures will be incorporated into a video show, which will be shown at the conclusion of the camp.

I've never done this before, so, it's a new thing for me, he said. "It's fun, but it's a lot of work."

There's also time to play and travel. Besides the social dance, students spent the Fourth of July weekend in Boston, went rock climbing, whale watching, and whitewater rafting. Students also went ice skating at the St. Lawrence Centre mall in Massena, with many of them lacing up skates for the very first time.

Clark says programs MEP and MMTP are important because they broaden the perspective of high school students and offer students preparatory skills, the chance to meet other people, and an opportunity to explore math-based careers.

It teaches you leadership skills and gets you prepared for college, said Oxendine, who is seeking an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy to study engineering. "You go deep within yourself. You do things that you never thought you would do. It's real challenging, but it builds your self esteem."

Added Williams: "I think it is important because it's the first time you get a chance to talk to Native American students who are just like you, that you don't see every day on the reservation or anywhere else. You get to learn about their culture."

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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