NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Program 'bridges' Native American students toward degree with the help of $400,000

The NMSU Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program for Native American Students at Community Colleges recently received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants from the National Institutes of Health that will fund extensive procurement of instructional equipment for the science disciplines at Diné College in Shiprock, NM, and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at NMSU.

Left to right: Chemistry professor Glenn Kuehn, along with biology major Varissa Kris Benally and biochemistry major Renee Benallie review data in Kuehn's laboratory inside the NMSU Chemistry and Biochemistry building. Both students are from Shiprock, NM. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The NIH Bridges Program is a research assistance program for students at community colleges, but the new equipment will benefit all chemistry and biochemistry students at Diné College and NMSU. The ARRA grants totaled $417,624 in direct costs.

"Securing funds to satisfy instructional needs are the hardest resources to obtain," said Glenn Kuehn, current director of the Bridges Program and head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at NMSU. "We would not have been awarded these funds without the Bridges Program link and the extraordinary record of success of this program. The funds will satisfy a lot of instructional needs."

The new instructional lab equipment includes two ultra-centrifuges, five centrifuge rotors, spectrophotometers, special student equipment to stock laboratory lockers for an organic chemistry class, microscopes, pipetting instruments, classroom projectors, laptop computers and many other analytical instruments.

Stocking two complete organic chemistry instructional labs will expand current enrollment by 50 percent, thus satisfying student course demands that have nearly doubled in the past three years.

Kuehn said much of the equipment currently used in NMSU chemistry labs is 25-30 years old, with miniscule annual appropriations set aside for its maintenance. With assistance from these grants, these laboratories should be in good shape for the next 15-20 years.

A research instrument to detect diabetes, valued at $30,000, will be housed at the Diné College in Shiprock (formerly Navajo Community College), and used as part of a public health course. The community college also will receive new computer science equipment, from desktop computers and printers to laptops and LCD projectors, in order to equip the computer instructional laboratory at Diné College. Kuehn makes monthly visits to the campus and has faculty coordinators working from offices there.

"Diné College at Shiprock is not the only community college with whom we work, but it is the one we are trying to help improve infrastructure for instruction of the basic biomedical disciplines now, such as chemistry, biology, computer science and mathematics," Kuehn said. "Diné College at Shiprock annually transfers the most Native American Indian students to NMSU."

The NIH Bridges Program, Kuehn said, seeks to attract students at community colleges to transfer to four-year baccalaureate programs for completion of the Bachelor of Science degree. It targets students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral research sciences of the nation and/or populations disproportionately affected by health disparities, such as Native Americans. The NMSU Bridges Program has existed since 1992 and in almost 18 years of operation has seen 240 Native American students participate in the program.

According to Kuehn, 70.4 percent of Native American student participants of this program successfully transfer to a four-year research-intensive institution, compared to the 16 percent national average of all community college students. Of those who transfer, 67.4 percent complete a Bachelor of Science degree in a science discipline. This compares with the 46 percent completion rate of all students in all disciplines in the state of New Mexico who complete a Bachelor of Science degree after entering a state university. Forty percent of Native American transfer students who complete a Bachelor of Science degree at NMSU in a science discipline are former Bridges Program students.

"These are outstanding statistics which vouch for the potential successes of Native American students at a tribal community college," Kuehn said.