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White Earth students at Washington STEM conference

White Earth Tribal & Community College students attended a conference in Washington, D.C., that brought Chicano/Hispanic and Native American students in for a three-day event filled with innovative ideas, scholarships and internships. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A group of students from the White Earth Tribal & Community College just returned from a trip they’ll likely never forget.

Four students and two faculty members with the college flew to Washington, D.C., for what is referred to as the “largest multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) conference in the country.”

The intense, three-day conference was held by the Society for Advancement of Chicano/Hispanic and Native Americans in Sciences. The organization is designed to fostering the success of these students in STEM programs to help them earn advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership.

“It made me think I think I can do better; it was inspiration for a lot of us,” said Cole Bellanger, a WETCC student who is studying environmental science. He was one of the four chosen to go. “There were so many things there that I didn’t even know were out there.”

Three thousand, six hundred college students from all over the country ascended on the nation’s capital to share and take in innovative ideas from various STEM areas.

“There were things on energy, and I went to an interesting meeting about nuclear plants and where they’re heading and how we can prevent accidents,” said Bellanger. “It gave us insight into what maybe we can do as students in our own communities.”

As if insight into the latest, cutting-edge technology and innovative ideas wasn’t enough for students attending, it also proved to be a conference jam-packed full of opportunity.

“They had NASA there, the National Security Agency was there - they were offering internships next summer,” said Patty Heath Gordon, one of the faculty members who went along. “The CIA was there offering internships, the USDA was hiring on site - I could not believe what was available.”

Gordon says although the conference was for Chicano/Hispanic and Native American students, the opportunities being offered through these agencies are for all students.

“And these internships are all paid for,” said Gordon. “They pay for the student’s transportation there, they pay the students a wage and it looks good on a resume - the opportunities were right there.”

Gordon says she hand-picked the students from White Earth to go, based on academics, attendance and an interest in these types of STEM fields.

The students and staff from the WETCC were all paid for through scholarships provided by American Indian Higher Ed Consortium, Indian Health Service and Native American Research Center for Health.

“It was a great opportunity to learn about the various opportunities offered to minorities and all students,” said Alicia Avila, one of the other students that went on the trip. “I am looking forward to applying for internships being offered for next summer.”

In addition to Bellanger, Avila and Gordon, students Glenn Bunker and Jerome Whitener also went, as well as WETCC staff member Emma King.

The three-day whirlwind that had the students busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day had Bellanger so impressed that he’s hoping the scholarships come around again next year.

“I’d love to go again, but I’d encourage others to go,” he said. “I would decline myself just to have others experience what I got to experience; it was amazing.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes and Perham, both in Minnesota.

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