Research Experiences for Students

The Life Sciences department at SKC has facilities for conducting novel research in the areas of microbiology, cell biology, and environmental health sciences.  The research labs have a vast array of instrumentation to perform analysis on DNA/RNA, protein, and environmental compounds.

Capable students are mentored internally by qualified faculty to perform place-based research projects.  Students can get paid to acquire laboratory experience, as well as academic credit for working in SKC’s two research laboratories – the Environmental Health & Chemistry Laboratory and the Cellular & Molecular Biology Laboratory.

Productive research projects often allow students to travel to national meetings ranging from Hawaii to Washington D.C. to present their findings.  As students progress on their research projects and training, the faculty look for opportunities for trained students to find local, regional, or national internships in areas of interest to the students.

Current Projects

Caitlyn Farris

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Caitlyn is studying HantaVirus Like Particles in lung tissue cells for immune responses through a BLaST grant. The project is designed to use HantaVirus particles in stimulating an immune reaction in tissue culture cells. Illiciting an immune response may provide new insight and lead to the development of better vaccines.

Bianna Harris

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Brianna is funded by an NSF/SGR grant to study methylating microbiota of Flathead lake. The project involves isolating lakebed soil samples that are processed for RNA to determine the presence of mercury methylating bacteria in Flathead lake. The higher the bacteria, the more likely fish are to contain toxic levels of mercury for food consumption.

Niché Brown

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Niché is interested in understanding the levels, exposure, and spatial dynamics of particulate matter (PM2.5) from wildfire smoke in the Mission Valley on the Flathead Indian Reservation.  The project is currently funded by an NIEHS grant. Future plans are to develop, in collaboration with MT Tech, a community-based sensor network on the reservation to detect air quality changes in real-time.

Antawnna Berthelote

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Tawnna is currently supported by an NIEHS grant to develop a plant model system to study the uptake and detection of environmental compounds. This work has important ramifications related to food sovereignty and microbiome health from locally grown and collected foods consumed on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Courtney Stinger

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Gut Microbiome Analysis of Participants in a Healthy Diets Community Engagement Intervention on the Flathead Reservation

There are trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and archaea that are located in the human gastrointestinal tract, collectively recognized as gut microbiota. Although the critical role of gut microbiota in human health and disease is only starting to emerge, recent studies have indicated that imbalances in the gut flora due to environmental factors, such as diet, are linked to chronic disease and health conditions including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, Type II diabetes, and obesity, which are all prevalent health disparities in Native American communities. Numerous studies increasingly recognize the diet-dependent impact on diversity and abundance of an individual’s gut microbiota, which contributes to outcomes of diet-related chronic disease. This highly suggests that diet can be used as a therapeutic through interaction with gut microbiota. Through a synergistic collaboration between the Salish Kootenai College Life Sciences Department and SKC Extension, this project proposes to study gut microbiomes of consenting participants in the SKC Extension program “Advancing Healthy and Sustainable Diets for All” by targeted 16S rRNA sequencing of stool samples. This innovative study will allow for analysis and comparison of gut microbiomes from consenting participants before and after the 12-week “Advancing Healthy and Sustainable Diets for All” diet program. The gut microbiome data generated from this project will provide the foundation for novel insights into the impact of sustainable healthy diets on microbiome signatures and health outcomes in Native American communities.

Marshand Vasquez

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Cultural Responsive Education in the Biomedical Field: Research on the Integration of Indigenous Knowledge in Life Sciences Curriculum at Salish Kootenai College

When Indigenous students enroll in biomedical programs, they are often confronted with science courses and faculty representing different knowledge systems than their own references through tribal contexts. The Life Sciences program at Salish Kootenai College, the tribal college on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, is the only Bachelor’s program with a biomedical emphasis in the Tribal College network. At SKC, Life Sciences students mainly experience the Western-based science education model. This project will research the integration of Indigenous knowledge into the SKC Life Sciences curriculum. The project will produce a framework for interrogation of science curriculum at institutions of higher education and will form the foundation for increase of retention, inclusion and equity of underrepresented students at tribal colleges. The goal of this research project is to identify if Indigenous knowledge is integrated into undergraduate science courses in the SKC Life Sciences program. The research will include both the perspectives of student and instructor experiences.

Goals of Research Experiences & Internships

Science is an exciting and fast-paced work environment.  Regardless if you are a researcher, clinician, or are involved in science policy, publishing, or business; understanding how research is done is fundamental.  Research experiences provide an opportunity for students to explore the scientific process and develop the necessary critical thinking skills to be competitive in modern science.  Internships further these capacities and allow students to start building contacts with professionals in the field while contributing to their work experience.