Winds of Change - Summer 2017 - 29

SOUTHWESTERN INDIAN POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE (SIPI) - ENGINEERING PROGRAMS

ROLE OF Education
Uses like drones and robots show the students
the role of community and the role of engineering - and how their education can help their
communities. Vadiee calls it "closing the circle."
In other words, you achieve reciprocity by
creating a pipeline that starts from the community with the students and then goes back to the
community after they earn their degrees. "These
kids return to their communities - this is the
goal. This is part of the charter of almost all the
tribal colleges," he says. "Their first contribution
should be to their tribal communities. If
students end up working for NASA that's fine,
but our first obligation is to the community."
And SIPI students are eager to contribute. "I
believe that tribes should have a feel for modern
technology," says Martinez, Laguna, who is
majoring in network management. "I want to
help people have a better understanding of what
the world has to offer."
Her teammate Cooke, Diné, is also looking
at how he could give back. "My tribe is facing
land issues right now, like big non-Navajoowned businesses moving onto the reservation
to mine our resources," he says. "Many people
don't understand the environmental issues this
could cause."
SIPI is providing an education that will
enable students like Cooke to do just that, while
preparing those who want to go on with a solid
foundation. Since the inauguration of the VIP
ROSE STEM program, Vadiee estimates 30
students have continued on to a four-year
university. "And I can tell you at least four of my
students have received their master's degree or
are in a graduate program," he says proudly.
The reach of SIPI's supportive programs and
fields of study is broad. At SIPI pre-engineering
is open to everyone on campus and works with
all the sciences. "It's a very collaborative
program," says Vadiee. "I have culinary arts
students joining my program to learn how to
grow food in space." He also gets business
students to do the market analysis for the
robotics program, and communications
students handle the Facebook page and the
website. Alumni who are currently in four-year
and graduate programs are hired as part-time
research and teaching assistants to work as role
models and mentors for freshman students with
VIP ROSE STEM projects.
aises.org

,

Another big draw to his program is
drones. "They are going to build a 3-D
printable drone that can be used for remote
sensing," he says about his summer institute.
"Some of the tribal colleges and communities
already use drones for remote sensing,
vegetation control, and natural resource
management applications."

SINCE THE
INAUGURATION
OF THE VIP

ROSE STEM

PROGRAM,
VADIEE
ESTIMATES

30 students
HAVE

CONTINUED
ON TO A
FOUR-YEAR
UNIVERSITY.

The Swarmathon
grand prize included
a $5,000 check for
the winning team's
school.

SPOTLIGHT ON Tribal Colleges
Vadiee is hoping that SIPI's big Swarmathon
win will not only boost the prospects for his
students - present and future - but also have
a positive effect on all tribal colleges, starting
with raising their visibility. Last year his team
won the Bronze Award, and SIPI was the only
Native American college in the competition.
The team set its sights on the Gold and now has
bragging rights. The accolades rolled in
immediately.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs sent out a news
release quoting Secretary of the Interior Ryan
Zinke: "Well done to the brilliant students at
SIPI. These young people are breaking new
ground and making everyone proud." Bureau of
Indian Education Director Tony Dearman's
statement read in part, "The post-secondary
schools under the Bureau of Indian Education
offer a great education. We at the BIE are
enormously proud of the SIPI team for
successfully tackling these challenges and
showing the excellent education SIPI has to offer
the students of Indian Country."
Swarmathon champion Sutherland, Navajo,
hopes that the reputation of all tribal colleges will
get a boost. "Many tribal colleges are stereotyped
as party schools," he says, "so many graduates are
not taken seriously. But SIPI's first-place win will
hopefully help change that attitude."
The SIPI Swarmathon students now know
what it feels like to compete in a group of 500
under intense pressure - and win. It's that kind
of experience that will motivate them to complete
their degrees and find ways to help their
communities. And that's just what Vadiee
envisions. "That's my passion," he says, "working
with students. They are just like a diamond in the
rough. My job is to clean the dust off and bring
the shine out, but the shine is there already." ■

SUMMER 2017 * WINDS OF CHANGE 29


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Winds of Change - Summer 2017

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