Cultivating Native American scientists: an application of an Indigenous model to an undergraduate research experience

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4 Scopus citations


With growing evidence demonstrating the impact of undergraduate research experiences on educational persistence, efforts are currently being made to expand these opportunities within universities and research institutions throughout the United States. Recruiting underrepresented students into these programs has become an increasingly popular method of promoting diversity in science. Given the low matriculation into postsecondary education and completion rates among Native Americans, there is a great need for Native American undergraduate research internships. Although research has shown that Western education models tend to be less effective with Native populations, the implementation of indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies within higher education, including research experiences, is rare. This study explores the applicability of a cognitive apprenticeship merged with an indigenous approach, the Circle of Courage, to build a scientific learning environment and enhance the academic and professional development of Native students engaged in an undergraduate research experience in the health sciences. Data were drawn from focus groups with 20 students who participated in this program in 2012–2014. Questions explored the extent to which relational bonds between students and mentors were cultivated as well as the impact of this experience on the development of research skills, intellectual growth, academic and professional self-determination, and the attachment of meaning to their research experiences. Data were analyzed via deductive content analysis, allowing for an assessment of how the theoretical constructs inherent to this model (belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity) impacted students. Findings suggest that engaging Native students in research experiences that prioritize the needs of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity can be a successful means of fostering a positive learning environment, in which students felt like significant members of a research team, developed a greater understanding and appreciation for the role of science in education and its various applications to socially relevant health issues, made more informed decisions about a career in research and the health sciences, and worked toward improving the health and well-being of others while also inspiring hope among their people back home. This study represents an extension of the application of the Circle of Courage to an undergraduate research experience and provides evidence of its ability to be used as a framework for cultivating Native scientists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-110
Number of pages34
JournalCultural Studies of Science Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Circle of Courage
  • Indigenous pedagogies
  • Native American
  • Postsecondary education
  • Scientists
  • Undergraduate research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies


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