Oklahoma Tribal Nations Alliance

Norma Neely
American Indian Institute, University of Oklahoma
Kathy Ellins
University of Texas, Austin
Molly Yunker
Oklahoma Geological Survey

Pathway Goals

The Oklahoma Tribal Nations Alliance identified the problem of induced seismicity and associated implications for mitigation and energy-related jobs as a compelling community issue around which we could develop an educational pathway to help guide American Indian youth toward a geoscience career.

Approaches to accomplish goals

  1. Invite potential Community Partners (business and government sectors, academia, and other organizations) to a listening meeting to determine community needs and existing resources
  2. Create small working groups to begin to plan student pathways which bring existing resources together into a more coherent sequence, and supplement those programs with external geoscience resources
  3. Work to improve geoscience career awareness by involving more students from high schools, community colleges and universities in activities with local geoscience professional organizations
  4. Engage in community outreach by collaborating with community stakeholders to stage educational events for children and families and hosting student visits to the University of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Tribal Nations Pathway


  • Norma Neely, OU - Norman Campus
  • Kathy Ellins, UT - Austin
  • Molly Yunker, OGS - Norman Campus
  • John Taber, IRIS
  • Jake Walter, OGS

Oklahoma Alliance Member Workspace

Oklahoma Alliance Leader Workspace


  1. Community engagement - We identified and brought together stakeholders, by reaching out to the Native community via the American Indian Institute, and honoring culture and tradition (see short description of community meetings).
  2. Evolution of the pathway maps through ongoing community and partner involvement, based on a compelling local issue – We created a process for our community to design potential pathways that we plan to implement in the next phase of the project (see maps below).
  3. Establishing a core group of stakeholders to lead the project into the next phase – This community group, including a new key partner, is committed to carrying the work forward, which is likely to involve finding additional funds. There is also the potential to connect to another INCLUDES project through stakeholder involvement of Anadarko School District, which is 81% American Indian.
  4. Piloting and assessing activities that could constitute pathway elements.

Pathway Elements

Examples of the Oklahoma Tribal
Nations Alliance pathway elements »
The following 3 pathway maps show the evolution of the Oklahoma Alliance planning and interactions with the local community. The first map shows some of the existing local and national resources that may be connected with existing Native American assets programs to create a pathway for students to follow from K-12 through to a potential geoscience career. The spiral pathway map replaces the original pathway map, and reflects an evolution from a general set of assets to focus on specific assets that support a unique pathway.

Proposed pathways map

We propose to refine the educational pathway toward geoscience careers developed during the pilot phase, to create a more sophisticated pathway map that offers multiple opportunities for learners at all levels of schooling from pre-K through higher education. Inspired by a braided stream, the new pathway map shows nine interconnected streams that represent educational experiences. Several activities span multiple age ranges and are highlighted as such in the Pathways Map. Each stream along the pathway is described briefly and development for six of the nine streams is currently underway. Three of the nine experiences are new conceptualizations of potential geoscience-related educational opportunities we plan to develop in the upcoming years, in collaboration with Native community leaders. Activities in phase 2 of the OK Tribal Nations Alliance will take into consideration lessons learned from the EarthConnections project.

  1. Community Open Houses: These public, community events will be held to engage Native communities, and will include Oklahoma agencies and businesses as exhibitors with a STEM activity and connection.
  2. BLOSSM: This is the primary focus of the OGS's involvement. The Bridging Local Outreach & Seismic Signal Monitoring in Oklahoma program is placing 100 seismographs in educational and free-choice learning institutions across the state to address the local problem of increased seismicity. This project is currently underway, in the second phase of a three-phase implementation model with regional professional development workshops for teachers being planned. This program is supported through funding from the state of Oklahoma. There is a great potential for students participating in BLOSSM to give back to the community as they became increasingly engaged in local geoscience issues at the center of this citizen science and seismology project.
  3. GeoXP (Geology Experience) Tours: These station-based tours provide K-12 students and teachers exposure to engaging geoscience phenomena on a college campus by guided tours with undergraduate Geology majors and OGS staff. These tours are already underway and will be promoted to school districts with significant Native American populations.
  4. Geologists Visit Schools and Classrooms: OGS staff and other professional geologists will visit individual classrooms and/or provide school-wide assemblies at schools with high populations of Native American students. This activity is underway. Dr. Jake Walter, OK State Seismologist recently visited an elementary school in Tecumseh, OK for a school-wide assembly. In attendance were over 450 students (grades 3-5), as well as parents, teachers, and administrators.
  5. STEM Summer Camps: These multi-week summer camps will bring exciting STEM experiences to Native American students, including a focus on local issues including induced seismicity. Such camps are already taking place at Jones Academy in Hartshorne, OK, and the 2nd year of OGS involvement is planned for this summer.
  6. Pathways Panel: A public panel with Native American students along different parts of the pathway from middle school up through career geoscientists. This is a new stream along our pathway. There is potential for the members of the panel and audience to learn from one another what issues are concerning to the local community in a town-hall-like forum.
  7. Internship Program: Identifying successful students and encouraging internship activities with local agencies and industries. This would be a new part of our pathway and could potentially expand the Alliance into the commercial sector. This stream will give students a chance to apply their knowledge and skills to issues relevant to their community. In addition, the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT Austin (Kathy Ellins) and IRIS can add value by providing summer internships and field experiences to students already engaged in the OK Alliance efforts.
  8. Native Science & Earth Systems of North America course at OU: This undergraduate-level course, taught by Dr. Shannon Dulin at OU examines Earth systems from both indigenous and western perspectives. This course is already being taught at OU, and students see how traditional Native American stories that have been passed down through generations mirror scientific theories on Earth science processes.
  9. International Research Experience for Students – Field program in France: This NSF-funded program, led by Dr. Lynn Soreghan and her Ph.D. student Lily Pfeifer, is especially seeking students of Native American heritage to participate in field research to promote diversity in the geosciences. The first implementation of this research experience will be summer, 2018.

As part of the process of developing a community centered pathway, we piloted several activities in collaboration with stakeholders that had the potential to become part of a longer-term sustainable pathway. Four such activities are described below:

Pathway Development Criteria

Embedded in the local community

We have developed a more robust partnership with the Oklahoma Geological Society (OGS), which has agreed to be the lead for the Oklahoma alliance going forward if the pending INCLUDES proposal is funded by the NSF. OGS has been involved in the alliance in an informal manner since the outset, sharing the expertise of the staff and the connections to OU's School of Geology and Geophysics. In particular, OGS's BLOSSM Program aligns closely with Oklahoma Alliance goals. The Jones Academy, a Choctaw School that serves students from 29 different American Indian tribes, has also become a local champion, via their significant increase in geoscience programming during their summer STEM camp for high school students, as described above.

Use geoscience to address a local need or problem

Despite a strong community focus on stewardship and protection of the natural environment, American Indians are poorly represented in the geosciences (Riggs et al., 2007). Understanding the relationship between increased numbers of earthquakes and energy industry practices, and the resulting implications for energy production and energy-related jobs in Oklahoma, is an important issue for all Oklahoma residents. It is an especially important to American Indians in the region, given their close association with the land and their sovereign control of natural resources and land use within their reservation boundaries.

In partnering with the Oklahoma Geological survey, the Oklahoma alliance is working to leverage earthquake awareness initiatives. The primary connection to a local geoscience problem is through the OGS BLOSSM project mentioned above. Through BLOSSM, teachers and students and the public will become more aware of the increased seismic hazard in Oklahoma and what the options are to mitigate that hazard.

Multiple learning opportunities connected and sequenced

The pathway maps shown above highlight some of the existing local and national resources that may be connected with existing Native American assets and programs to create a pathway for students to follow from K-12 through to a potential geoscience career. The spiral pathway map replaced the original pathway map and reflected an evolution from a general set of assets to focus on specific assets that support unique pathways. The 3rd, forward-looking pathway map builds on the first 2 pathway maps, and integrates the plans of OGS, the new leader of the OK Alliance. We recognize that further development in consultation with other stakeholders is still needed to fully connect other stakeholders with some OGS activities.

Coupled classroom and service learning opportunities

One of the goals of the pathway map was to find places to bridge between existing projects and activities. To that end, earthquake related activities were presented during the 2 Jones' Academy STEM Camps. Jones Academy students indicated they gained new information on earthquakes, hydraulic fracturing, ground water issues, and types of seismic waves from the presentations. They especially enjoyed the hands-on activities, the videos, and the data analysis using computers. As part of the collaboration between the Oklahoma Geological Survey and neighborhood schools, libraries, and informal science sites, the OGS will also be placing low cost seismographs at these venues throughout the state. There is a great potential for students participating in BLOSSM to give back to the community as they became increasingly engaged in local geoscience issues at the center of this citizen science and seismology project.

Mentoring and signposting that supports students

The proposed pathway maps (above) shows both Native American and other stakeholders' assets, all of which may be "stops" along an educational path that leads to a geoscience career. Feedback and input are needed from Oklahoma tribal leaders in order to select the types of learning activities and programs that are a good fit for the Native American students along the "Oklahoma Pathway". Efforts to continue the partnership with the Oklahoma Geological survey, which already supports earthquake awareness and geoscience education initiatives, hold tremendous promise for the Oklahoma EC Alliance.

Insights for other Regional Alliances

  1. A challenge we had was to progress from the broad list of potential alliance members to a smaller group of key stakeholders and decision makers. While an initial meeting of a wide range of groups is helpful for determining the local landscape, for new regional alliances, it might be helpful to focus earlier on identifying the key stakeholders. Then that smaller group can choose just a few pathway enhancements to implement.
  2. The development of pathways took several iterations and the pathways will continue to evolve as individual activities are trialed or implemented, and as the appropriate group of partners and stakeholders evolves.
  3. While there was already a strong sense of connection between the various tribes and a shared history of working together in some ways, each tribe tends to have its own source of funding, making collaboration between tribes more complicated, as would be true when bringing together any group comprised of representatives from separate organizations.
  4. The ability to access expertise and resources from national partners was critical. For example, AGU's Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) provided considerable guidance regarding working with a new community to determine community needs and establish trust.

Publications and Presentations

See all EarthConnections
publications and presentations »

  • Ellins, K., Neely, N., Taber, J. 2018. EarthConnections: The Oklahoma Tribal Nations Alliance's Progress Toward Education Pathways. Earth Educators' Rendezvous (Lawrence, KS). Abstract
  • Yunker, M., Chang, J., Walter, J. 2018. Pathways to Geoscience: Oklahoma Tribal Nations Regional Alliance. Earth Educators' Rendezvous (Lawrence, KS). Abstract