Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Thu, Jan. 21

Research and summer enhancement programs for Diné College students moves online

Staff and students attend a Zoom call during a Summer Research Enhancement Program put on by Dine College and Northern Arizona University. (Photo/NAU)

Staff and students attend a Zoom call during a Summer Research Enhancement Program put on by Dine College and Northern Arizona University. (Photo/NAU)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Navajo Nation “Stay at Home” order, two Diné College programs are being offered virtually.

The academic programs provide experiential training for high school and college students and are a collaboration between Diné College and Northern Arizona University (NAU).

Supported by the Navajo Native American Research Center for Health (NARCH) and funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the Summer Research Enhancement Program (SREP) is a 10-week program for college students from May 26 to July 31. The Indigenous Summer Enhancement Program (ISEP) is a one-week program, from June 21 to 26, designed for high school students.

Summer Research Enhancement Program

Offered for 15 years, SREP typically engages students in three weeks of classroom instruction on the Diné College Tsaile campus, then coordinates a six-week, hands-on internships with different agencies and mentors, generally located on the Navajo Nation. This internship provide students with practical experience in data collection and analysis in a health-related program in a community setting.

In the final week, students usually return to the Tsaile campus to review their experience with their instructors, analyze data and provide a presentation on their work to peers, faculty and internship mentors.

This year, all in-person activities have been eliminated, and students will not have the opportunity to work directly with any public health organizations on Navajo Nation. All lectures at the beginning of the program were through Zoom, including the opening prayer by Avery Denny, medicine man and a staff member at Diné College.

“We have added a weekly talking circle,” said Carmella Kahn, Diné College faculty and instructor for both SREP and ISEP, and an adjunct faculty member in the Health Promotion Science Department at the University of Arizona. “This is to allow students to reflect on their experience in the program and to talk about their experiences outside of the program.

Kahn said COVID-19 has affected many communities across the Navajo Nation, which can make taking a summer program difficult.

This year, SREP instructors and staff are using a variety of online programs to help create students’ experience––Blackboard for course materials, Zoom for lectures and Slack for announcements and online discussions.

Both programs are providing laptops or internet connectivity for students who need them.

Students will be completing final research projects in three different groups and will submit their research protocol to the Diné College Institutional Review Board for approval. They will complete data analysis and present final projects during the last week of July.

The SREP program has nine attendees this year, slightly lower than the usual 15 students.

According to the faculty, SREP has a demanding schedule and the shift to online instruction makes the program more challenging. In the past, more non-Diné College students applied and were accepted, but because of COVID-19, there are a limited number of students who applied or were able to commit to being online for the summer.

Indigenous Summer Enhancement Program for high school students

ISEP has seven peer mentors––all former summer program students. Last year, 15 students attended ISEP.

Heather Dreifuss, director and instructor for ISEP and NAU staff, said the recruitment drive coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Usually we visit high schools and local dorms to recruit high school participants, though we could not this year,” she said. “This strategic recruitment time and the move to online may have affected enrollment, but we do not have a specific mechanism in place to answer these questions accurately at the moment.”

Though the quick pivot to an online summer program has been challenging some of the new technological changes may be included in next year’s program.

Flipped classrooms, where students take a more active role and instructors serve as facilitators, allow students to experience even more hands-on, student led collaboration and group work.

Information provided by Northern Arizona University

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