Cherokee awarded Ely S. Parker Award for STEM work
Cara Cowan Watts
TULSA – The American Indian Science and Engineering Society named Cherokee Nation citizen Cara Cowan Watts, Ph. D., as its 2020 Ely S. Parker Award winner.
According to a Tulsa Pier Drilling press release, the award “recognizes an Indigenous professional who has achieved an exceptional career while supporting education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.”
Ely S. Parker is a 19th century Seneca Nation chief who broke several racial barriers and whose legacy inspires today’s Indigenous leaders, according to the release.
Cowan Watts is the principal owner and CEO of Tulsa Pier Drilling, but her involvement in STEM and AISES is lengthy.
She has been an active AISES member since 1994 and became a lifetime member in 2001.
While attending Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, she founded the OPC AISES college chapter.
“AISES has been a critical part of my life since 1994 when I was a student at Oklahoma State University and active in our college chapter,” she said. “I believe AISES is critical in supporting, protecting and creating the next generation economy for tribes and all of Indian Country through workforce development and technical entrepreneurs.”
Her most notable degree is the doctorate she earned in biosystems engineering in 2015, completing after her time as a CN Tribal Council member.
“My dissertation is about and for the Cherokee people and the protections of our culturally significant waters from chicken litter and other causes of high nutrients that often cause algae and fish kills in the Illinois River, Spring Creek and other running waters important to us as a people,” she said.
She served on the 2011-12 Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s EPA-funded technical advisory group to review the Oklahoma scenic rivers’ total phosphorous standards.
“A good portion of my literature review in my dissertation was put to use for this effort to uphold the existing phosphorus standard despite Arkansas’ protests,” she said.
Today, she said still uses her STEM background to elevate training and safety programs for deep foundation drilling and commenting on national standards set for the industry.
“When we are able, Tulsa Pier Drilling donates time and money to STEM efforts for such programs as AISES locally and nationally, the Tulsa Engineering Foundation, the monthly Engineers Night Out event in Tulsa, the National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair and the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance focused on K-12 youth,” Cowan Watts said.
She said she is honored to have received the Ely S. Parker Award.