Haskell Indian Nations University signed an agreement with the University of North Texas last Friday in an attempt to steer more American Indians to the environmental science field.
The agreement serves as a pipeline for Haskell undergraduates to enter postgraduate studies at the Denton, Texas, university, where they can earn a master's or doctoral degree in environmental studies. The Environmental Protection Agency also signed the agreement. Denton is about 40 miles north of Dallas
Sam Atkinson, UNT biology professor and director of its applied science program, called the partnership "a natural fit." He said Native Americans are the most underrepresented minority group in science. He hopes this program inspires more American Indians to enter the field, where they can combine traditional tribal ecological knowledge with advances made by modern scientists.
"It seems that there's a different philosophy in looking at environmental problems," Atkinson said.
UNT President Gretchen Bataille said the program "provides American Indian students with the opportunity to further their commitment to environmental research and education, which is critical for sustainability within tribal culture."
Todd Spinks, special projects coordinator at the EPA's district headquarters in Dallas, said the affiliation will transition students from a scholastic environment to a professional one.
"Hopefully, they can in turn go back to their tribal lands and take that knowledge that they've gained and combine it with traditional knowledge and cultural knowledge and improve the conditions ... in their tribal home," he said.
Haskell students will still have to meet application requirements. While the program is not funded by scholarship money, UNT will make teaching and research assistant posts available to Haskell graduates. The EPA also will provide internships to students at its Dallas office.
So far, one May 2008 graduate is enrolled at the Denton campus. Spinks said another is considering the program. He said UNT will begin targeting Haskell students in their junior year to ensure they are on track academically if they are interested.