A Review of Promising Practices in STEM Bridge Programs Serving High School and College Native American Indigenous Communities




Martinez Ortiz, Araceli

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American Society for Engineering Education


This paper presents a two-part literature review study conducted to uncover research-based major themes of importance according to indigenous education experts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The second part of the study reviews select case studies that highlight a set of exemplary promising practices effective in designing and implementing STEM bridge programs that serve middle, high school and college indigenous students. A historical review of NASA partnership efforts with Tribal Colleges and Universities is presented to highlight past approaches and to support presented recommendations.

Background: This research paper prepared for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), reviews research-based promising themes and operational approaches of effective Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) bridge programs that serve Native American students. In this study, Native American is defined to include American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian populations. A bridge program is defined as any organized enrichment effort that supports groups of students to succeed during key academic transition periods such as from middle grades to high school or high school to college/university. A special focus on American Indian, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian students and on efforts carried out by tribal colleges and universities is important given the continuing underrepresentation of American Indian and Alaskan Natives in the STEM careers and NASA’s commitment to broaden student participation in STEM programs and careers.

Research Questions: Two overriding research questions guiding this review are as follows: 1) What major philosophical premises regarding science education and indigenous ways of knowing science emerge as influential for improved and focused STEM intervention design for American Indians/ Alaska Natives? 2). What major themes or practices are highlighted in select cases studies as integral to the design and implementation of successful bridge programs to best serve indigenous students in the United States?

Methodology: A semi-systematic, integrative review approach was used to identify major themes and promising practices in more than 50 primary research and practitioner published articles and reports to support the investigation of the stated research questions. In this case, the intent of the review was not to cover all articles published on the topic but rather to combine perspectives to create guiding principles for new theoretical models and implementation recommendations. The search key phrases were: “STEM bridge programs for indigenous students” and “indigenous or native or aboriginal or Indians or first nations”. Through this method, themes were identified, analyzed, and are reported here. In addition, seven specific programs were selected as case studies that demonstrate some of these themes and practices into successful operationalized program models.


This paper was originally presented at the 2023 American Society for Engineering Education annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education



Martinez Ortiz, A. (2023). A Review of Promising Practices in STEM Bridge Programs Serving High School and College Native American Indigenous Communities. Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore, Maryland. https://peer.asee.org/42491


Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering
Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching
Engineering Education