2021 AISES Leadership Summit Wrap-Up

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Leadership Summit took place virtually on two Friday’s – April 2 and April 9. This year’s AISES Leadership Summit delivered on strategies that equip Native science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students and leaders with the knowledge, tools, and information to succeed within the organizational structures in their work or academic lives. Through sessions and networking opportunities, the Leadership Summit participants learned how to fulfill their potential as STEM leaders as they work to meet their career and educational goals.

April 2, 2021 – First Friday of the 2021 AISES Leadership Summit

More than 440 attendees were welcomed by the AISES CEO Sarah Echohawk at the opening reception held on April 2. Ms. EchoHawk shared key conference demographics which included attendees from 38 states including Hawai’i, and sixty-three (63) percent female participants. Phil Lane, Jr., with the AISES Council of Elders bestowed the opening blessing and Montoya Whiteman, AISES Senior Director of Marketing from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who shared the awareness and respect of Indigenous Peoples through a land acknowledgement statement. AISES Board Chair Gary Burnette delivered the welcome address and spoke of resiliency, moving forward together, and lessons from a global pandemic. He shared, “The pandemic has taught us what is important and what matters…we are emerging stronger than ever.”

After the opening speakers, the program transitioned to the keynote address from Native Hawaiian, Dr. Keolu Fox. Dr. Fox is the first Native Hawaiian to receive a PhD in genome sciences. Dr. Fox’s research interests include genome sequencing technologies, genome editing, and indigenizing medical research. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Alan Saltiel’s research group at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Dr. Fox shared three tips with conference attendees that has helped his productivity and academic success: 1) Work smarter, not harder, 2) Do not go at it alone and, 3) Celebrate your accomplishments! Dr. Fox shared wisdom from his mother who said, “It’s not about the productivity, but ensuring you have balance in your life. I am so proud of you but know how to play. Hawaiians know how to play.”

Canadian AISES professional members Matthew Dunn (K’ai Taile Dene, Member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation) and John Desjarlais (Nehinaw – Métis from Kaministikominahikoskak) hosted the session titled, “Empowering Change in Your Profession.” They shared their journeys of volunteering, and how their professional and leadership experiences fueled their passion to bring Indigenous inclusion to the engineering profession in Canada.

A conversation with several AISES student representatives revolved around their challenges and triumphs as leaders. They provided advice for others who are looking to expand their leadership skills.

Students and professionals with the Full-Circle Mentorship program met for the first time in a yearlong mentor/mentee program. The popular “Heart to Heart” session with the AISES Council of Elders provided conference attendees the opportunity to connect one-on-one with AISES elders. One conference attendee commented, “Thanks for creating a center of wellness in this time of COVID-19.”

April 9, 2021 – Second Friday of the 2021 AISES Leadership Summit

Oneida Nation elders and AISES Council of Elders Artley Skenandore and Norbert Hill, Jr. provided words of wisdom and invited attendees to start their day in a reverent, meaningful, and invigorating way with a morning blessing.

Keynote speaker and Iskwew Air CEO Teara Fraser, Métis, shared her leadership journey, insights, and expertise as the first Indigenous woman to own an airline company operating in Canada. Her conversation focused on resiliency, adversity, and recreating one’s life. Fraser shared her profound story and experiences in reconnecting with her tribal heritage. She encouraged conference attendees to “take your Indigenous worldview and wisdom wherever you go. The world is depending on it.” She exclaimed “Culture saves lives!” She said her culture set her up for success as the first Indigenous CEO of a national airline.

In the “Using Native Cultural Resilience to Overcome Trauma and Other Stresses” session, facilitator Dr. Clayton Small, Sr. (Northern Cheyenne) shared, “The ongoing impact of historical and daily trauma, including COVID-19 upon Native peoples has highlighted the health disparities for black and brown people in the U.S. This represents a call to action by Native people to strengthen the cultural resilience of our youth, families, and communities. Cultural resilience is using our Native culture to overcome trauma, threats, tragedy, and other stressors in our lives.”

Intel Client Customer Security Manager, Tasvir Virk, shared his experiences in how to leverage one’s cultural knowledge for a successful career and fulfilling life, while being in a professional work environment.

One conference attendee shared, “I appreciated how the presenters linked their success back to their Native values. It helped me learn more about Native culture and values while also learning other topics.”

Ahead of the closing reception, small group networking sessions took place. The sessions included: IBM’s “Amplify Your Voice” that focused on the importance of speaking up; AISES Scholarships and Internships, Indigenous Circle of Motivation, Health and Wellness, and more!

The 2021 AISES Leadership Summit ended with a talking circle and acknowledgement of the exemplary leadership from Jacob Calderone, an engineering student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. A member of the Fort Nelson First Nation, Jacob has served as the Senior Canadian National Student Representative for two years. Jacob said that his leadership role at AISES was not one that he was seeking out. He asked himself “If not me, who will?”

Making the 2021 AISES Leadership Summit a success is greatly due to our sponsors and partners. AISES would like to acknowledge our Opal sponsors IBM and Wells Fargo. Malachite sponsors included Chevron, DOW, and Stantec.

Thank you to all who supported the 2021 AISES Leadership Summit. The 2021 AISES National Conference will be held September 23-25, in Phoenix, Arizona. This year’s national conference will be an in-person conference with a virtual streaming component. Registration, a call for sessions, and a call for research will open soon! Visit conference.aises.org for more information.

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