Native Students to receive research lab

students working in the lab

As soon as the mothballs and old petri dishes are cleared out, University of Montana’s American Indian science students will have two research labs of their own – the first labs developed for hands-on training of Native students in the nation.

The University of Montana recently announced that Skaggs 263 and Health Sciences 505 will be devoted specifically to advancing research opportunities for American Indian undergraduate and graduate students in biological and biomedical sciences. There will be three graduate positions and eight undergraduate positions available in the labs.

UM contracted Michael Ceballos, research assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences, to help develop the Native American Research Laboratories as facilities where Native students can learn to use modern research equipment and methods in a comfortable environment.

“The whole idea is to provide cross-disciplinary, hands-on basic science research opportunities for Native undergrad and graduate students and also international and non-Native students,” Ceballos said. “We hope to maintain a cross-cultural atmosphere.”

Mary Kamensky, administrative associate at the graduate school, said that the idea for the labs came out of a brainstorming meeting with several groups on campus, which was meant to address the needs of 2005’s 14 Sloan Scholars, a scholarship program for American Indian students in math and science.

Kamensky said Ceballos took the lead in developing the labs by submitting a proposal for a facility about 7 months ago. He is also using his two active research grants to purchase new equipment for the labs, including a fluorometer priced at about $65,000.

Ceballos, a former tribal college science faculty member and a Sloan Scholar, said that many Native students come to UM from tribal colleges or economically challenged communities where faculty expertise and access to modern equipment is limited. These conditions, Ceballos said, sometimes put Native students at a disadvantage in undergraduate science programs and when applying for graduate research positions. The new facilities are meant to help UM retain Native graduate students.