Udall, Heinrich, Lujan Announce NASA Grant For Navajo Tech Robotics Academy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) announced that Navajo Technical University (NTU) in Crownpoint, N.M. was awarded $324,800 by NASA's Minority University Research and Education Project to develop a robotics academy.

NTU has long championed using Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum in innovative ways to encourage Navajo students to seek technically-based careers. The new robotics academy at NTU will provide high school students from reservation communities throughout the Navajo Nation with advanced classes in aerospace manufacturing, unmanned aircraft systems, conceptual design and planning, and employee skills. The experiential learning robotics syllabus will be respectful to traditional Navajo culture and serve as a template for other tribal colleges and universities.

"Thanks to institutions like Navajo Technical University, our state has been at the forefront of increasing access to STEM education for underrepresented communities," said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "With NASA's help, we're working hard to engage and encourage Native youth to pursue careers in the field. At a time when STEM jobs throughout the country are going unfilled, this grant will help cultivate and invest in the talents of students across New Mexico, equipping them with the skills they need to enter and excel in a 21st century workforce. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I fought hard last year against cuts to NASA's Office of Education because I know opening pathways for Native youth into the STEM pipeline is mission critical for New Mexico."

"With my background in engineering, I know how important it is to engage students in STEM fields to encourage innovation and better prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow," said Heinrich. "I'm particularly excited about how Navajo Tech is leveraging partnerships with local employers to build a pipeline from the classroom to careers in growing science and engineering industries. I will continue to work with New Mexico's major employers and educators to foster collaboration and develop strategic workforce development programs like this that can create a more prosperous economic future for communities all across our state."

"By engaging Native youth in STEM early, Navajo Technical University can spark a lifelong interest in pursuing science and technology," said Luján. "Our country must prepare workers to succeed in the 21st century economy and New Mexico needs a highly-trained STEM workforce to help attract high-tech industries. This NASA grant will not only enable Navajo Technical University to prepare the next generation to fill that need, it will also help propel Native youth into careers in the STEM fields."

"NTU believes that new wealth is created in any society by the new technologies introduced that become economic engines," said NTU President Dr. Elmer Guy. "The Navajo Nation has been poor for way too long.  This project is part of our design to create a group of Navajo scientists and engineers with the desire, skills, and knowledge capable of helping move the Navajo Nation into a brighter economic future."

NTU will partner with the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) to develop its new curriculum. SIPI has demonstrated success using similar NASA support to build a year-round robotics center to train engineering students from tribal communities. The NTU Robotics Academy will also work with NTU's Center for Digital Technologies and the newly established Bond Wilson Center for Technologies in Kirtland, N.M., which is working with local industries to equip high school students from Navajo communities with skills for in-demand jobs.