Indigenous Knowledge Systems Informing STEM Education toward Equitable and Sustainable Ecological Decision-making
Nikki McDaid

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Given rapidly changing climates, it is crucial that educational systems begin supporting youths’ capacity to make sustainable decisions. Current research indicates that knowledge about climate change is not sufficient to shift human environmental behaviors. My mixed methods dissertation offers theoretical and practical contributions around culturally-responsive, action-oriented STEM education that builds relations between learners and the nature they live in as a climate change mitigation strategy.Study 1 is situated in a STEAM summer program for urban Indigenous youth. Analyzing video and interview data, I ask: how does the program pedagogy support or enclose (see Richardson, 2011) caring relationships between humans and plants? What values, beliefs, and knowledge do participants develop through their interactions with plants over time?Study 2 is a cognitive psychological study, which asks: how do ecological self-construals (independent or interdependent) vary between and within Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in the Midwestern US? What is the relationship between ecological self-construals and knowledge systems that people access when making environmental decisions and how does this vary by participant group?To explore these questions I will conduct a survey about closeness to nature and conceptions of environmental problems. Together, these studies have the potential to uncover better ways to teach about climate change and help youth develop relations with lands and waters that lead to brighter climate futures. Considering the climate crisis before us, it is critical we design learning environments that prepare our children and communities to build sustainable and equitable futures.
About Nikki McDaid
Nikki McDaid (Shoshone-Bannock, Paiute) is a doctoral candidate in the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. Her research interests are broadly focused on informal and formal learning environments at the intersection of land-based education and Indigenous resurgence. More specifically, she wants to understand the ways that Indigenous youth in a land-based learning environment (Dr. Megan Bang’s ISTEAM program) recognize the personhood of plants and more-than-human animals and whether or not the propensity to do so might have an effect on the ways youth engage in decision-making around social and environmental concerns. She is also conducting research on how Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who have lived in the midwestern US for generations conceptualize their closeness with nature and define environmental problems. Nikki earned her M.A. in Teaching from Pacific University and her B.S. in Sociology from Northeastern University. She also is a parent of two young children and a former middle school and high school teacher.

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