New ASU course meshes academic experiences with American Indian views, values

May 23, 2013

A new course that will be offered this fall will mesh American Indian views and values with tools to succeed academically at Arizona State University.

Professor Donald Fixico will offer “AIS 191: Preparing for Academic Success” that teaches students how to navigate the university, form career goals and determine an academic plan to achieve those goals. Download Full Image

“Indian student retention nationwide is a problem,” said Fixico, ASU Distinguished Foundation Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The scope of the higher education problem is illustrated by ASU School of Social Transformation professor Bryan Brayboy, an author of the book, “Postsecondary Education for American Indian and Alaska Natives: Higher Education for Nation Building and Self-Determination.” 

“If 100 American Indian students start ninth grade, about 58 will graduate from high school (this is about the national average). Of those 58, 20 will attend some form of post-secondary education.  Of those 20, two will graduate with a four-year degree within 6 years of starting,” according to the book by Brayboy, Amy Fann, Angelina Castagno and Jessica Solyom. 

Emphasis in AIS 191 is placed on the American Indian way of doing things, including personal and tribal values that should be respected in correlation to mainstream methods and values, said Fixico, who is also the author of the book, “The American Indian Mind in a Linear World.”

“I don’t think we’ve looked at how Native people do things. Their system of knowledge and logic is unique according to their world view,” he added. “Because each tribe’s culture is different, I would contend that they think in different ways.”

American Indian Studies Director and Foundation Professor John Tippeconnic researched the retention issue through a report he co-authored, “The Dropout/Graduation Crisis among American Indian and Alaska Native Students: Failure to Respond Places the Future of Native Peoples at Risk.”

“We are pleased to house ‘AIS 191: Preparing for Academic Success’ in American Indian Studies and feel the course will help ground students in the experiences of Indian nations, peoples and communities from American Indian perspectives. Student retention rates are not what we want them to be and are the result of a complex set of circumstances,” Tippeconnic said. “It is our hope that the course focus on recognizing the strength of Indigenous peoples and what students bring to the higher education experience – their languages, cultures and knowledge systems - will help them successfully graduate from ASU.”

Case studies of three American Indian individuals who were successful in their academic careers and used their education to better their communities will be addressed in the course. Former Navajo Nation President and former ASU Advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs, Peterson Zah’s story of success will be examined through his book, “We Will Secure Our Future:  Empower the Navajo Nation,” as will Dakota physician Charles Eastman’s “From the Deep Woods to Civilization” and Navajo surgeon Lori Arviso Alvord’s “The Scalpel and the Silver Bear.”

When you read their biographies, it is one of struggle and success,” Fixico said.

Today’s students encounter their own struggles, from being hesitant to seek help from student support services to a lack of understanding from family members who may not relate to their children’s experiences at the university if they are the first member of their family to go to college.

“There are cultural and psychological barriers that need to be met and understood,” Fixico said. “American Indian students have never really had higher education as a part of their culture, but it has been developing sporadically for the past few generations. The thinking is now really changing for many Indian students to get a doctoral degree, to become a medical doctor or to get an advanced degree. It needs to be in their realm of possibilities.”

Students will keep a journal as part of the class to document progress in their academic journeys as well as look back at where they’ve been and how far they’ve come. Specific topics to be taught in the course include: Higher Education as a Part of Native Cultures & Preparation for the Future; Learning Styles:  Academic Culture and Native Cultures; and Support Systems at ASU and at Home. Diane Humetewa, ASU special advisor to the president for American Indian affairs, worked with Freeport MacMoran Copper and Gold to secure funding for student’s reading materials for the course.

After the seven and a half week course is wrapped up, Fixico will meet with the students as a group on a monthly basis to touch base and encourage them in their studies.

Although the course teaches from a primarily American Indian point of view, any ASU student may take the class.

“I would welcome non-native students. They’re all coming from different cultural backgrounds, yet they’re in the same academic experience,” Fixico said.

Panama canal watershed offers test bed for ASU reforestation study

May 23, 2013

More than 13,000 ships carrying more than 284 million tons of cargo transit the Panama Canal each year, generating roughly $1.8 billion in toll fees for the Panama Canal Authority. Each time a ship passes through, more than 55 million gallons of water are used from Gatun Lake, which is also a source of water for the 2 million people living in the isthmus.

However, the advent of very large “super” cargo ships, now more than 20 percent of the ships at sea, has demanded change. The Panama Canal is being expanded to create channels and locks three times larger than at present, leaving the authority to consider how best to meet the increased demand for water. One proposed measure is the reforestation of the watershed. Land use land cover in the Panama Canal watershed (year 2008) Download Full Image

To help planners and policymakers understand the effects of reforestation, ASU scientists Silvio Simonit and Charles Perrings studied the effects of reforestation on a "bundle" of ecosystem services: dry-season water flows, carbon sequestration, timber and livestock production.

Published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), their study – “Bundling ecosystem services in the Panama Canal Watershed” – examines precipitation, topography, vegetation and soil characteristics to model on-site and off-site effects of several reforestation options.

“The Panama Canal watershed is currently being reforested to protect the dry-season flows needed for canal operations. We find, however, that reforestation does not necessarily increase water supply, but does increase carbon sequestration and timber production,” said Simonit. “Our research provides an insight into the importance of understanding the spatial distribution of the costs and benefits of jointly produced services.” Simonit, a member of ASU’s Ecoservices Group co-directed by Perrings, is part of a collaborative research partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). He is also a post-doctoral fellow on the National Science Foundation-funded research coordination network:  Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Training Network (BESTNet).

Simonit and Perrings found that only 37 percent of the currently forested area positively impacts dry-season water flows, offering up roughly 37.2 million cubic meters of seasonal flow (equivalent to US $16.37 million in revenue to the Panama Canal Authority).

In parts of the watershed not currently under forest, they found that reforestation of areas with high precipitation rates, flat terrain and soil types with high potential infiltration would enhance dry-season flows. However, they note that these conditions exist in less than 5 percent of watershed not currently under forest.
“Water supply is, however, only one amongst many ecosystem services affected by reforestation of the watershed,” said Perrings, a professor in the School of Life Sciences in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “And the balance between services depends on the type of reforestation undertaken.” Accordingly, the duo investigated two reforestation scenarios: natural forest regeneration and teak plantation.

“We found that if all existing grasslands were allowed to regenerate as natural forest, there would be a reduction in dry-season flows across the watershed of 8.4 percent, compared to 11.1 percent if reforestation took the form of teak plantations.” In both cases, these conditions potentially pose a problem for the Panama Canal Authority. Even with water-saving advances in the new locks, the canal is expected to need 14 percent more water when the expansion takes full effect, and other options for securing dry-season flows are not cost-free. However, the Panama Canal Authority is not the only beneficiary of the watershed, and water is not the only ecosystem service supplied. “Both natural forest and teak plantations offer benefits in the form of carbon sequestration and timber products, among other things, and these should be weighed against any water losses,” said Perrings. 
According to their study, water losses from "natural" forest regeneration would be compensated by the value of carbon sequestration in 59.6 percent of the converted area at current carbon prices. On the other hand, reforestation of existing grassland with teak (under sustainable forest management) would generate gains sufficient to offset the hydrological losses in all converted areas, regardless of the value of carbon. 

The authors note that their study does not consider the value of land cover as habitat for wild fauna and flora. However, they say their results could help canal planners prioritize reforestation efforts. Knowing what to plant and where can reduce the negative impact of forests on dry-season water flows, while providing other important ecosystem services.

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost