Navajo Technical University receives $4.4M in grants from National Science Foundation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Technical University is the recipient of two grants from the National Science Foundation. One award will sustain a project that focuses on increasing the number of Native American students pursuing degrees in STEM.

That amount is $4 million, and it will benefit the Vision for Excellence at Navajo Technical University in Research and Education in STEM, a project managed through a partnership between NTU and Harvard University through its Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

Since 2018 the partnership's goals have been to increase the number of Native Americans earning undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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Students and faculty from Navajo Technical University and Harvard University are pictured on Aug. 21 at the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It also has been working toward improving research infrastructure at NTU, raising the number of Native Americans entering and completing graduate programs in materials science, and integrating Native American perspectives and methods of inquiry into materials science research.

Thiagarajan Soundappan is chair of the School of Science at NTU and oversees the project at the campus in Crownpoint.

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He explained the project launched in 2018 through a seed grant from the National Science Foundation.

An aspect of the partnership that Soundappan highlighted is the opportunity NTU students have to visit Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the summer, where they further their studies.

Navajo Technical University students visit Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Aug. 21 under a partnership the two universities have formed to increase the number of Native American students pursuing STEM degrees.

In exchange, Harvard faculty visit NTU to learn about the tribal college's science programs and research projects.

Soundappan said this exchange benefits students by exposing them to post-bachelor's degree programs and advanced research.

An accomplishment the project reached this year was the acceptance of NTU alumnus Robinson Tom into Harvard to continue his studies in science there, Soundappan explained.

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In May 2020, Tom became the first student to earn a bachelor's degree in biology at NTU.

The second grant of $405,400 will help NTU examine challenges to computation and communication networks in remote, less populous and rural areas, according to a New Mexico Higher Education Department press release.

The higher education department announced last week that six colleges and universities in New Mexico received a total of $43.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

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The amounts will support research projects and several grants focus on increasing the number of women, Native Americans, Hispanics and other historically underrepresented groups in research fields, the release states.

Other recipients are the University of New Mexico with $30 million, New Mexico State University with $4 million, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology with $3.4 million, New Mexico Highlands University with $1.1 million and Central New Mexico Community College with $298,757.

Navajo Technical University students visit Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Aug. 21 to further their studies in science and to learn about research projects under a partnership the two universities have formed.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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