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American Indians are among the most under-represented groups in the engineering profession in the United States. With increasing interest in diversity, educators and engineers seek to understand why. Often overlooked is simply asking enrolled tribal members of prime college age, “Why don’t more American Indians become engineers?” and “What would it take to attract more?” In this study, we asked these questions and invited commentary about what is needed to gain more engineers from the perspectives of enrolled tribal members from South Dakota, with some of the most poverty-stricken reservations in the nation. Overall, results indicated that the effects of poverty and the resulting survival mentality among American Indians divert attention from what are understood to be privileged pursuits such as engineering education. The study’s findings indicated American Indian interviewees perceived the need for consistent attention to the following issues: 1) amelioration of poverty; 2) better understanding of what engineering is and its tribal relevancy; 3) exposure to engineering with an American Indian cultural emphasis in K-12 schools; 4) presence of role-model engineers in their daily lives; 5) encouragement and support from their peers, families, teachers, Elders, and tribal governments to value science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, particularly engineering fields; and (6) the embedded perceptions of math as a barrier to engineering studies.
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