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Educator and minority student advocate fosters love of science

By Paige Willett, CPN AISES chapter member

Melot family descendant Cheyenne Branscum switches between titles throughout her day, one of which includes being a member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society chapter, Shkodedeajek (Those Who Carry the Fire in Their Hearts).

The Shawnee Public Schools Geo Team. (Photo provided)

She received her bachelor’s in international securities from the University of Oklahoma and taught geography at Shawnee Middle School in Oklahoma. But, she always had a passion for STEM fields and often incorporated them into her classroom lessons. Now, she focuses on her role as an advocate teacher for the Society for Science and the Public.

Branscum also created the Geo Team program in 2018, which she continues today. It encourages minority students often not exposed to STEM subjects as academic focal points to lead independent research projects in one of the areas. In the last two years, several of her students presented their findings at national conferences, including a sixth grader with the idea to use mushrooms as an environmentally friendly way of cleaning up marine oil spills.

Living in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Branscum encounters many CPN students. She believes science and the scientific method ultimately equate to understanding the world. She developed the Geo Team as a way for minority students, including Native Americans, to explore this fundamental approach to critical thinking.

As an AISES member for the past eight months, Branscum considers the CPN chapter a productive space to converse about serving Native students. It welcomes not only STEM professionals but also students from all levels, mentors, community members, and educators — even those with no scientific background such as Branscum. Although no longer a teacher, Branscum’s legacy and impact on the students continues; the Geo Team plans to expand to Shawnee High School for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Virtual meetings allow all Shkodedeajek members to participate, regardless of their location. Join the Facebook group Shkodedeajek AISES for updates.