UM Receives Grant to Support Recruitment, Retention of American Indian Students in STEM Graduate Programs

January 16, 2015

MISSOULA – The University of Montana Graduate School recently was awarded $730,000 grant as part of a $2.4 million National Science Foundation Alliances for Graduate Education and Professoriate. The grant is titled “Collaborative Research: The Pacific Northwest Alliance to Develop, Implement and Study a STEM Graduate Education Model for American Indians and Native Alaskans.”

The goal of the grant is to increase the number of American Indian and Native Alaskan doctoral students who complete graduate programs in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, known as the STEM fields. The partner institutions forming the Pacific Northwest Circles of Success: Mentoring Opportunities in STEM, or PNW COSMOS, include UM, Washington State University, University of Idaho, Montana State University, Heritage University, Salish Kootenai College and Montana Tech. 

“The reality is that the numbers of indigenous students in STEM fields obtaining graduate degrees, in particular doctoral degrees, continue to be very small,” UM Graduate School Dean and principal investigator Sandy Ross said. “Our hope is that the Pacific Northwest AGEP will help start and support a positive change. This makes the PNW COSMOS a unique, important effort.”

During the three-and-a-half year funding period, the Montana institutions will focus on developing a culturally relevant and collaborative mutual mentoring model for American Indian and Native Alaskan students in STEM degree programs and their advisers. The goals of the mutual mentoring model are to improve student retention and success and coordinate resources among PNW COSMOS alliance institutions.

UM co-principal investigator Blakely Brown, MSU co-principal investigator Sweeney Windchief, and a program coordinator at Salish Kootenai College, are leading the development and implementation of the model, assisted by UM co-principal investigator Aaron Thomas, director of UM Indigenous Research and STEM Education. UM co-principal investigator Dusten Hollist is a participant on the project’s social science research team. The research team will identify and evaluate culturally attuned mentoring approaches that are effective for American Indian and Native Alaskan graduate students and that also encourage American Indian and Native Alaskan undergraduate students in STEM fields to proceed into graduate school. Ross and Thomas will collaborate on student and mentor recruitment strategies.

The NSF grant award number is HRD-1432694. For more information call Ross at 406-243-2572 or email


Contact: Sandy Ross, UM Graduate School dean, chemistry and biochemistry professor, 406-243-2572,