Initial Publication Date: October 23, 2013

Supporting Minority Students in Geoscience at SKC

Part of the Recruiting and supporting minority students in STEM disciplines Collection. Information for this profile comes from an interview with Antony Berthelote, Professor of Geology at Salish Kootenai College (SKC), August 21st, 2012.

Jump down to Context | Keys to Success | Attracting New Students | Supporting Our Majors | Preparing Students for Careers

Hydrology at Salish Kootenai Tribal College

Housed within the Natural Resources Department, this program offers Associate's and Bachelor's of Science Hydrology Degrees that combine both science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Since its inception the program has enrolled a total of 21 students, and 17 were still active as of fall 2012. Eighty-two percent of these students were Native American. The first graduate from the program was expected in December 2012.


Salish Kootenai College is a Tribal college located in western Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The college serves about 1,100 students of whom approximately 75% are Native American. While the large majority of the students are from Montana, the college attracts students from across the U.S. and Canada. In 2011 there were 69 tribes represented from 22 states. Approximately two thirds are first generation college students.

The program director, Antony Berthelote, worked separately and with a team from the Saint Anthony Falls Lab in Minnesota for approximately three years to develop the program and obtain sufficient external funding. However, the accreditation process was relatively rapid, and this was attributed to careful planning, preparation and curricular research conducted prior to seeking accreditation.

Keys to Success

  • Attracting new students by recruiting from within the existing student body at the college, through the Geoscience Alliance, promotion at national conferences, and educational outreach.
  • Supporting majors through tutoring, instruction that bridges the variety of math backgrounds among students, and engaging courses and field trips infused with a tribal perspective.
  • Preparing students for careers in Geoscience by providing a multidisciplinary background infused with a Tribal perspective and the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of career pathways.

Attracting New Students

Marketing. Recruitment of students by person-to-person communications and from within the existing student body has been effective. Prospective students can learn about the program through the college's Natural Resources Department web site and digital catalog. The main promotion tool has been the Geoscience Alliance, which is an organization of national scope that is dedicated to increasing Native American participation in the geosciences. The program director, Antony Berthelote has also worked with researchers from the St. Anthony Falls Lab, the University of Minnesota and Fond du Lac Community and Tribal College in Minnesota to promote the program. Work to promote the program has also included poster presentations at national conferences such as the American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), American Indian Higher Education Association (AIHEA), and SACNAS.

Outreach. A community- or family-centered learning model is embraced, in which multiple-aged groups learn about hydrology-related topics (e.g. stream macroinvertebrates) in the field. Field trips may involve college students, K-12 students, a professional from the tribe, and elders. The college students provide an example for the younger students. The elders' perspectives and knowledge are greatly valued; so their presence and words are respected. The oral tradition is an important traditional method of teaching in tribal communities, and so this mode of learning is effective in this context. The younger students gain exposure and positive reinforcement for having a interest in the geosciences. It is hoped that these early learning experiences will lead to increased recruitment into the Hydrology Program in the future.

Supporting Our Majors

Academic support. In keeping with the college's mission, Salish Kootenai College accepts all students regardless of academic preparation; and, every student who applies gets admitted. As a result, not all students, but a substantial number, require educational remediation--especially in math and writing. The college provides free tutoring in these subjects at continuously staffed centers on campus. Any student can go there at any time for assistance.

Effective instruction. The Hydrology Program makes a concerted effort to ensure that students obtain sufficient training in the areas where underrepresented students often require remediation in graduate school--math, chemistry, and physics. Hydrology courses often involve a good deal of math. The faculty provide classroom instruction and one-on-one tutoring in the mathematics that is needed for their courses in order to supplement the services provided by the college. Program faculty also select textbooks that are concept-based rather than calculus-based in order to ease the math burden, especially for lower level courses.

Engaging courses and field trips. Frequent student activities and a strong focus on Tribal perspectives are two methods faculty use to engage students. Incoming students frequently lack knowledge about how to use software programs that are important to working in the field of hydrology such as Excel and PowerPoint. In order to help these students learn new software, equipment and other technical skills, a good deal of training involves hands-on activities and field work. Hydrology courses also engage students through focusing on issues of concern to Tribal members and by embedding Native American culture into the coursework.

Preparing Students for Careers

Curricular design. The goal of the Hydrology Program at Salish Kootenai College is to prepare students for a variety of career paths in hydrology and to bring more underrepresented students into the geosciences. The curriculum was carefully researched for this purpose. For example, the B.S. degree includes a year of calculus, a year of chemistry, and a year of physics, as required for many government entry level positions in hydrology. In addition, the program is interdisciplinary, and incorporates physical, chemical, biological, and management issues relating to water. In the future, as the program develops, the goal of the program is to offer American Institute of Hydrology certification.

Relevance to students' interests. Another unique aspect of the program's career preparation is its focus on issues affecting Tribal waters--on developing an understanding of the science, history, cultural significance, economics, and politics involved. Many Native American students in the program are expected to want to live on their home reservations long term; although there will be many opportunities beyond the reservation as the result of graduating from this program. Students are encouraged to write about, and research water-related issues affecting their own communities, and to explain how these issues relate to their own worldviews and perspectives. In this way, they are prepared to work together with all stakeholders, including on- and off-reservation community members and federal agencies such as the EPA.