In 2019, a group of eager tribal members approached the Waccamaw Siouan leaders, proposing the start of a STEM education initiative in the tribal community called STEM Studio.

The most recent initiative, which kicked off earlier this month, allowed these tribal leaders to connect the growing need for STEM education with its traditional tribal practices for students.

With jobs in STEM expected to grow by 8% by 2029, the STEM Studio was designed with an intent to encourage interest in STEM among tribal youth.

The most recent STEM Studio initiative is the “Build a Wigwam” competition, supported by the Corning Foundation. Wigwams are traditional dome-shaped homes made of natural materials. These were common, semi-permanent dwellings used by Indigenous peoples across the United States.

For this competition, students were instructed to create sustainable, durable wigwam replicas no larger than one foot in diameter. To test this, the wigwams were judged on a number of criteria, including hurricane and earthquake tests, whether it used 100% sustainable material, and whether the wigwam design was realistic.

Students used materials like grapevines, tree branches, and bark. Several wigwams were interactive, including one that replicates a “damper” on the top and a string that you pull down.

Ashley Lomboy, Director of the STEM Studio, says the response to the project was overwhelming. For Lomboy, the STEM Studio is about creating accessible STEM education opportunities for tribal youth, including those who don’t live in or near the tribal territory.

For this “Build a Wigwam” competition, remote students were encouraged to film themselves completing the tests. Because of this commitment to accessibility, tribal members from across the country submitted wigwam replicas to the competition, including a family from Virginia.

“Because we had such great, great input from the community, I said, you know, we really should try to showcase and really celebrate the kids and what they accomplished,” Lomboy said.

Read the full article about STEM and tribal practices by Cheyenne McNeill at The 74.