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    EDUCATION, OUTREACH, & TRAINING | Contents | Next

    A Strong but Sensitive Computing Initiative for Native American Communities

    PROJECT LEADER
    Evans Craig, University of New Mexico

    As Internet technology has permeated nearly every aspect of everyday life, the "Digital Divide" separating citizens into "haves" and "have-nots" has become a hot topic of discussion and policymaking. Statistically, Native Americans are technological have-nots, as Internet access is uncommon--if not impossible--on reservation lands where telephones are sometimes rare, and few Native Americans pursue careers as computer scientists or technologists. An impulse, then, is to "fix" this situation by bringing universal access to all Native Americans. However, cultural issues affect the number of tribal people who wish to pursue education and careers in the field. Other factors, including the rural nature of reservation lands and the structure of the Tribal Colleges system, limit the opportunities available to Native Americans. Increasing the inclusion of Native Americans in computer science, then, requires a program that addresses both cultural and technological issues.

    In many ways, this scenario challenges the historical experience that white America has had in dealing with other minorities, namely African Americans and Hispanics. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s reinforced the message that arose from legislation addressing Jim Crow laws and de facto segregation: Separate but equal is never equal. Applied to educational environments, this message man dates integration and programs to erase the differences experienced by ethnic groups. But this approach cannot be applied as a blanket solution for Native Americans.

    OUTSIDE, INSIDE

    TRIBAL COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE

    BRIDGE TO THE GRID

    RURAL, BUT NOT REMOTE

    OUTSIDE, INSIDE

    "The introduction of high-performance computing (HPC) and Internet access, on their own terms, may help tribal governments to improve situations on the reservations," said Evans Craig, the education, outreach, and training manager at the Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center (AHPCC). "For example, HPC supported by adequate network connectivity will open up new research opportunities at the Tribal Colleges. This will help both faculty and students pursue their educational objectives without leaving the reservation and their traditional way of life."

    Craig is Navajo/Scottish from Shiprock, New Mexico, a town on the Navajo Indian reservation that stretches across the Four Corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. He left the reservation to attend public high school in Albuquerque and, when ready to graduate in the 1970s, was advised by a counselor to attend Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, now known as Haskell Indian Nations University. There, the only computer science courses involved learning assembly language on the school's paper-tape-driven computer. Ultimately, this seeming setback--Craig had done trigonometry and calculus on computers in high school--prepared him well for the world of supercomputing at Sandia National Laboratories.

    At Sandia, Craig began teaching supercomputing through the lab's education and outreach department while earning his bachelor's degree in Management and Information Science at the University of New Mexico (UNM). He has since completed a master's degree in Teaching and Learning Technologies-Distance Education at UNM. Craig brought his personal experience as a Navajo student to the task of creating programs to benefit other Native Americans interested in computer science studies.

    "First and foremost within Native communities is an emphasis on internal ownership," Craig says. Traditional culture's emphasis on self-sufficiency, combined with the historically negative treatment by the U.S. government, has created a climate wherein Native American communities are wary of programs imposed upon them by individuals or organizations perceived as "outside" of tribal associations.

    "I am even on the borderline because I am Native but left the reservation to pursue my education," Craig says. Consequently, it has taken time for programs developed by Craig to be embraced by the Native American community at large. That they are now endorsed by and linked to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) is testimony to the fact that the programs evolved with input from tribal members on how they would most benefit the tribal peoples. AIHEC, founded in 1972 by the presidents of the nation's first six Tribal Colleges, supports the work of these colleges and the national movement for tribal self-determination.

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    Evans CraigEvans Craig
    Education, outreach, and training manager at the Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center.

    TRIBAL COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE

    While at Sandia, Craig received funding from the Department of Energy to create a six-week program called Countdown to Supercomputing. Native high school students from different tribes traveled to Albuquerque for an intense introduction to supercomputing in math and science. Freshmen worked on Internet skills, which were largely undeveloped because of little or no access to the Internet on the reservations. Sophomores explored fractals as "nature's geometry." Juniors learned virtual reality, modeling, and simulation techniques, and all of the grades finished by working on an environmental project at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

    While working on the Countdown to Supercomputing program, Craig developed the five points now at the heart of the Tribal Computational Science Program, which is working with NPACI and the Alliance through the Education, Outreach, and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (EOT-PACI):

    *?Provide administration that tracks the progress and impact of the program;

    *?Provide high-speed Internet connections to all Tribal Colleges, within the boundaries created by cultural considerations;

    *?Provide Internet and distance education technology training to all Tribal Colleges and other Native American serving schools;

    *?Identify core competencies of all Tribal Colleges and other Native American serving schools; and

    *?Identify distance education models that can be used by Tribal Colleges and other Native American serving schools to provide the Computational Science Program.

    The evolution of the five points from inside the reservation community, coupled with the experience of the Tribal Computational Science Program, prompted AIHEC in November 1999 to endorse the initiative as positive for tribal peoples.

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    Collaborative Grid Technologies WorkshopCollaborative Grid Technologies Workshop
    In preparation for integration into the grid, EOT-PACI and the University of New Mexico(UNM) sponsored a workshop on Collaborative Grid Technologies in the Classroom at UNM.

    BRIDGE TO THE GRID

    Bringing high-speed Internet connectivity to the Tribal Colleges--necessary as a foundation for training and distance education--has been no small undertaking. Recently, however, significant progress was made for the Dinx College system--the eight Tribal College campuses serving the Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico. A consortium led by the Northern Navajo Medical Center announced the funding of a DS3 connection with microwave connectivity between the Dinx campuses at Shiprock, New Mexico, the main campus in Tsaile, Arizona, and the other six campuses in the Navajo Nation.

    The medical center is interested in ways that high-speed network connectivity can support initiatives, such as telemedicine, that would be applicable and beneficial to healthcare on rural reservation lands. The DS3 connection is brokered through the center and delivered to the other consortium members--including the Shiprock and Tsaile campuses, and several K-12 schools--at multiple T1 speeds.

    "The connectivity supports an Access Grid Node, bridging the Dinx campuses with other research and education institutions across the country," Craig says. "This will allow faculty at the Dinx schools to collaborate with colleagues at other universities and to be competitive in the pursuit of federal grant money." An NSF statistic indicates that only 25% of Native American doctoral scientists and engineers employed in colleges or universities are supported by federal contracts or grants, compared to 45% of all other doctoral scientists and engineers. "It will also allow us to bring together the core competencies of the Tribal Colleges, creating a distance education program that will allow Native students to have the best courses, taught by the best Native teachers, without leaving the reservation."

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    RURAL, BUT NOT REMOTE

    Tools developed for the grid by NPACI and the Alliance will be used to support distance education objectives, helping to form what Craig refers to as an Indigenous Distance Education Institute at UNM. In this vision, collaborative technologies--including NPACI's eTeach authoring software, ClipBoard-2000, and Sync-O-Matic 2000--will unite students and teachers from several locations and reservations over the grid. Participating locations could include UNM, Dinx College (Navajo), Haskell, AIHEC's headquarters in Washington, D.C., Little Big Horn Community College (Crow Indian) in Montana, the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque.

    In preparation for integration into the grid--and before the DS3 connectivity was announced--EOT-PACI and UNM sponsored a Collaborative Grid Technologies in the Classroom workshop at UNM. The workshop was conducted for AIHEC technology coordinators and attended by representatives from 21 Tribal Colleges and other Native-serving organizations. NPACI and Alliance tools were demonstrated, including collaborative technologies and discipline-specific tools, such as Biology WorkBench, for research in molecular biology; astronomy; biology, medicine, and image processing; and geology.

    "This meeting secured the endorsement of AIHEC for the HPC initiative and for the vision of the Indigenous Distance Education Institute," Craig says. "Now that our connectivity is established, the meeting is crystallizing ideas at other sites about how computing technologies can improve education on the reservation without compromising cultural heritage. Others are looking to our example now for leadership. As an associated benefit, NPACI and the Alliance are enriched through the participation of faculty and technology coordinators from within the Native community. They bring new perspectives and diverse viewpoints informed by their culture. This can only be a positive benefit to the world of science." --AF

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