Alex Parent turns CSMS idea into Outreach with American Indian students in North Dakota

Alex Parent, Assistant Professor in Chemistry at NDSU and CSMS researcher, took an idea this past year and turned it into an Outreach opportunity with ND EPSCoR’s Sunday Academy program.

The Sunday Academy program, designed to generate interest in math, science, and engineering among American Indian high school students in North Dakota, is held at the five tribal colleges in North Dakota: Cankdeska Cikana Community College; Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College; Sitting Bull College; Turtle Mountain Community College; and, United Tribes Technical College.

Faculty from NDSU and UND, as well as the tribal college Sunday Academy coordinators, are invited to submit STEM related topics, and seven topics are then chosen for the following year’s program. The NDSU and UND faculty get together with tribal college coordinators during the 2nd week of ND EPSCoR’s NATURE University Summer Camp, held in June, to turn their ideas into hands-on activities. Two topics, selected as all-site STEM modules, are taught in January and February – hello Winter! – by the tribal college coordinators. The other five topics selected are led by the UND and NDSU faculty who travel once to each of the five tribal colleges between September-December and March and lead the activities for their STEM topic.

This past year, Alex turned his CSMS-related topic “Polymer Synthesis from Common Materials” into three activities: Modeling Molecular Structures; Crosslinking – Polymers to Plastics; and, Extracting PET strands from Soda Bottles.

Being involved in ND EPSCoR’s Sunday Academy program isn’t new to Dr. Parent. In 2017-2018, he traveled to the tribal colleges to lead activities for his CSMS-related topic “Recycling Bioplastics”, and in 2019-2020 he will have activities related to “Gold Nanoparticles”.

Alongside Dr. Parent’s lesson, the other topics from the 2018-2019 Sunday Academy program included:

  • “Understanding the anatomy of the eye” led by Dr. Ben Balas (NDSU, Psychology)
  • “Digital preservation of natural and cultural resources” led by Dr. Stephanie Day (NDSU, Geosciences)
  • “Influenza outbreak” led by Dr. Natasha Petry (NDSU, Pharmacy)
  • “Adaptation and climate change” led by Drs. Jill Hamilton and Pam Puppo (NDSU, Biological Sciences)
  • All-site lesson “Hypothesis and Product Testing” from Dr. Mafany Mongoh (Sitting Bull College, Environmental Sciences)
  • All-site lesson “Sentiment Analysis” from Dr. Ravi Yellavajjala (NDSU, Civil and Environmental Engineering)

More information about the Sunday Academy program can be found at https://www.ndepscor.ndus.edu/ndep/nature/sunday-academy/. Previous years’ topics and their activities can be found through this same webpage link.