OSU hopes to attract Native American students to sciences
Medical student Brandon Postoak shows an X-ray as he speaks to high school students taking part in a hands-on examination of human bones on Oct. 4 Oklahoma State University OKC in Oklahoma City. The field trip is part of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society National Conference being held at the Cox Convention Center. CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN VIA AP
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A group of Native American high school students handled human bones and organs during a recent field trip designed to spark their interest in science and medicine.
Taking the students on a tour of the 206 bones in the body was Brandon Postoak, a first-year medical student at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences.
Postoak is Chickasaw and Choctaw, which makes him an important role model, said Kent Smith, a paleontologist and anatomy professor.
The lack of Native mentors is the greatest barrier to recruiting Native American students to careers in science and medicine, said Smith, who is Comanche and Chickasaw.
“We’re the overlooked minority, but the largest one in Oklahoma at 12 percent,” he said.
Smith – associate dean in the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences – heads the Native Explorers program to introduce Native students to science.
Recently, about 40 high school students attending the national conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society at the Cox Convention Center took a field trip to OSU-OKC to hear Smith and others talk about careers in medicine.
Of the 30,000 students who graduated from medical school last spring, only about 100 were Native Americans, Smith told the students.
“There are just not many applying,” he said.
OSU-OKC President Brad Williams, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, said he invited the students to campus to promote health careers.
Williams asked them to think about “your talents and skills, and how can you use the gifts you have for the greater good.”
Celine Cortes, an OSU graduate student in biomedical sciences, showed the students normal and diseased human organs.
“It looks like a pork chop,” one student said when Cortes displayed a heart.
The brain drew the most interest.
“What’s this?” Cortes asked, pointing to the lower brain.
“It’s the medulla oblongata,” she said, warning the students to be careful not to injure theirs. “It controls your breathing and heart rate.”
After her presentation, the students were invited to put on gloves and closely examine the organs.
“We have a keen interest in all of you,” said Tom Anderson, a Cherokee who is executive director of the Association of American Indian Physicians.
“You have an inherit responsibility as a tribal citizen to make the world better for those coming after you,” he said. “Remember your heritage and your culture.”