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Programs for the Training and Advancement of the Next GENeration of Native Researchers in Genetics, Ethics and Society

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The lack of American Indian and Alaska Native professionals in genomic sciences today highlights the tremendous need for effective training and research programs to prepare the next generation of Native students to be successful in their pursuit of careers in genetics research. Early and meaningful exposure to degree programs and research experiences are critical for the inclusion and advancement of Native students in establishing pathways toward careers in genomics. The proposed Genetics and Ethics in Native Communities (GEN) Program is a five-year research and training program for undergraduate and graduate Native students interested in pursuing questions related to genetics, health and society. Our proposed program combines didactic and experiential training activities, together with Indigenous and community-based models of learning, as a means for Native students to directly shape the field of genomics in ways that promote the values and perspectives of Indigenous experiences. The four main components of the GEN program include 1.) an online course on genomics and ethics in Native communities; 2.) a paid fellowship program for Native students to connect with ongoing training opportunities and research experiences both on site and within a larger network of supporting institutions; 3.) a summer intensive field-based research methods course for individual student project development; and 4.) a biennial student research conference designed to showcase the next generation of student achievements in genomics research. Central to our proposed program is the Genomics and Ethics Program for Native Students (GEN), a fellowship program designed to foster collaborative learning communities for the advancement of Native students in the ethical, social and legal implications of genetics and society. The fellowship is founded upon a community of learners approach that works toward the creation of sustainable, supportive learning environments for Native students by grounding all training activities in indigenous knowledge and methodologies, intergenerational learning, professional indigenous networks, and the value of social cohesion (Ball, 2004). A priority for this fellowship, and the entire program as a whole, is to provide Native students with opportunities to participate in community-based training and research activities that are grounded in indigenous experiences, which is why every activity offered as part of the GEN program is a collaborative effort between personnel at the Center on American Indian and Alaska Native Genomic Research (CAIANGR) and a network of Indigenous professionals, Native-serving programs, tribal leaders and community members, and fellow cohort members. A primary outcome of the proposed activities is the recruitment and retention of Native student researchers in the field of genomics and society, but we expect that this training program can also serve as a model for inserting Indigenous perspectives at the forefront of the growing science of genomics.
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