Undergraduate Readying for Burgeoning Research for American Indian Neuroscientists

Native American communities face significant disparities in health care compared to other U.S. populations. At the same time, Native Americans are among the most underrepresented groups in the biomedical sciences, accounting for less than 0.5% of the total workforce. Though more than a third of the most prevalent diseases in Native American communities are neurological in nature, the diagnosis, treatment, and study of these disorders is complicated. Inadequate access to care and lack of nuanced understanding of cultural norms, especially as they relate to disease etiology and the expression of distress, may not be adequately be captured or addressed by traditional diagnostic criteria.

Meeting these multifaceted challenges requires the development of a biomedical workforce rooted in the traditions and cultures of Native American populations, a goal often impeded by a combination of pedagogic and institutional factors.

Supported by a 5-year NINDS training grant (R25-NS107185), the University of Arizona’s URBRAIN (Undergraduate Readying for Burgeoning Research for American Indian Neuroscientists) program is a culturally aware and community-oriented collaborative partnership with the Navajo Nation’s Diné College designed to meet this challenge.

Rooted in Tradition

We recognize that many Native American students approach the world and the means to investigate it from fundamentally different philosophical perspectives. In contrast to highly reductionist Western models, Native American epistemologies are often more holistic and narrative-based.

Together with our partners at Diné College, we have developed an educational program that integrates established best pedagogical practices with neuroscience research experience. By integrating the holistic perspective of the Navajo culture with the scientific problem-based approach of neuroscience, we hope to compliment, advance, and enrich both perspectives.

Sowing Seeds for the Future

URBRAIN was developed to create a pipeline of Navajo students to advance from Diné College to neuroscience programs at top-tier research universities, creating a model of culturally grounded STEM education and bolstering the NIH workforce and cultural diversity. Our program will focus on developing the neuroscience literacy of Diné College Students, providing them with professional development opportunities as well as a sense of belonging within the academic community.

To enable the success of our trainees and the Navajo community we are helping to expand Diné College's research infrastructure. By developing fundamental laboratory research skills and improving institutional research infrastructure we aim to improve student instruction, enhance career progression, and increase the research output of Diné Faculty.  

Restoring Trust

Our program is designed to honor and celebrate indigenous sovereignty. URBRAIN students and mentors will engage with community elders and conduct public engagements events on the Navajo Nation with the goal of increasing trust between Diné Elders and UA Researchers as well as increasing community support for Navajo students to pursue biomedical research.