The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded researchers at the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NM EPSCoR), and partner institutions from five states in the western half of the U.S. (Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) a $10 million grant to address the under-representation of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines and workforce.

Dr. Selena Connealy, associate director of NM EPSCoR, will serve as Principal Investigator (PI) for the New Mexico portion of the Cultivating Indigenous Research Communities for Leadership in Education (CIRCLES) Alliance, with co-PI Dr. Lani Tsinnajinnie, assistant professor of Community and Regional Planning at the UNM School of Architecture, Water, and Natural Resources.

The UNM portion of award will be used to support native communities and STEM professionals across New Mexico through a series of collaboratively organized community STEAM events, Indigenous STEM professionals webinars, and annual New Mexico partner meetings. On a larger scale, the CIRCLES Alliance ultimately aims to inform educational institutions and the NSF in AI/AN cultural understanding and humility while shifting approaches towards AI/AN education.

Formed in 2020 with support from NSF’s EPSCoR and INCLUDES programs, CIRCLES Alliance is poised with this new funding to further serve students and educators at the kindergarten through undergraduate levels across the Mountain West.

"This funding will give us the opportunity to collaborate with New Mexico’s Native communities to ensure that STEM learning is accessible and culturally responsive in all settings, including K-12 classrooms, informal learning spaces, and community-based programs," Connealy said.

CIRCLES Alliance PI, Aaron Thomas, director of Indigenous Research and STEM Education and professor of chemistry at the University of Montana, describes the CIRCLES Alliance’s goal as encouraging “AI/AN students to identify academically and culturally with being a Native scientist, technician, engineer, or mathematician, so that more AI/AN students will enter and persist in STEM-related fields and workforce.”

To this end, the Alliance’s prior work has included partnering with tribal communities to better understand how STEM and Indigenous Science are valued within those communities and to gain their perspective on addressing the challenge of better serving Native students in public education institutions.

At UNM, Vice President for Research Ellen Fisher is excited about the announcement. “We are thrilled to be engaged in the CIRCLES Alliance as it represents a unique opportunity to expand the reach of the NM EPSCoR program. The goals of the program are directly aligned with UNM’s mission to create new knowledge and also better understand and value different ways of knowing.”

New Mexico EPSCoR is funded by the NSF to build the state's capacity to conduct scientific research while cultivating a diverse, well-qualified STEM workforce. For more information, visit