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Native Americans making an impact through STEM

November is Native American Heritage Month and SME is proud to recognize indigenous people within manufacturing. There are many Native Americans within STEM who have contributed to the development and implementation of next-generation advanced manufacturing technologies. We celebrate the contributions Native Americans have made through careers in STEM and we continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion within the manufacturing community.

Recognizing indigenous pioneers within STEM

Andra Rush

Andra RushAndra Rush

Entrepreneur (Mohawk Nation)

Andra Rush is the founder and chairperson of the Rush Group family of companies, which include Rush Trucking, Dakkota Integrated Systems and Detroit Manufacturing Systems. This consortium of manufacturing, trucking, assembly, and distribution is one of the largest Native American-owned businesses in the USA. In an article with Crain’s Detroit, when asked about her manufacturing business she stated, “I wake up thinking about how we can be relevant, meaningful, and prepared for the next opportunity or the next technological breakthrough.” In January 2014, Rush was invited to attend the State of the Union Address and was highlighted as an example of job creation and business ingenuity.

Mary Golda Ross

Mary Golda RossMary Golda Ross

Mathematician and Engineer (Cherokee Nation)

Mary Golda Ross was the first female and the only Native American Engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, California during the Space Race. She was one of the 40 founding engineers of the Skunk Works project. Ross helped write NASA’s Planetary Flight Handbook, the agency’s space travel guide, and contributed to planning for flights to Mars. Much of her other work with NASA is still classified. Ross helped open the doors for females pursuing a career in STEM fields.

John Herrington

John-Herrington-250x250.jpgJohn Herrington

Engineer and NASA Astronaut (Chickasaw Nation)

John Bennett Herrington is a retired United States Naval Aviator, engineer and former NASA astronaut. In 2002, Herrington became the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly in space and conduct a successful spacewalk. People like Herrington are an example of how you can achieve anything with the right mindset and determination, regardless of your upbringing.

Thomas David Petite

david-petite-250x250.jpgThomas David Petite

Inventor (Chippewa Nation)

Thomas David Petite is an inventor with over 50 U.S. patents. He founded the Native American Inventors Association and works to support Native American inventors throughout the United States. In 2010 he was honored as the 4th most successful Native American entrepreneur and honored by the Georgia State Senate in a resolution recognizing his innovations in wireless technology and his incredible career in engineering and invention. Petite is best known for his work in developing the Smart Grid and is a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribe.

Fred Begay

begay-fred-250x250.jpgFred Begay

Nuclear physicist (Navajo Nation)

Fred Begay was born in Towaoc, Colorado on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. He was the first Navajo to receive a PhD in physics. Begay spent a majority of his career working in nuclear fusion research and development. His experience included work on NASA’s high-energy gamma ray project and teaching fellowships at Stanford University, the University of Maryland, and a tenure of nearly 30 years with the Los Alamos National Laboratory laser programs. Individuals like Begay carved a path for people from disadvantaged communities and showed what’s possible for Native Americans in STEM.

Chelsea Benally

chelsea-benally-250x250.jpgChelsea Benally

Environmental Engineer (Navajo Nation)

Chelsea Benally is the first Indigenous woman to earn an engineering PhD from the University of Alberta. As a teenager growing up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, Benally said, she learned for the first time about environmental decline, and it made her want to do something about it. When she talks about being the first Indigenous woman with a PhD in engineering from the U of A, Benally wishes there were more Native Americans taking a career path in STEM and hopes she can be an example of how others can succeed in pursuit of their dreams.

Aaron Yazzie

Aaron-Yazzie-250x250.jpgAaron Yazzie

Mechanical Engineer (Navajo Nation)

Aaron Yazzie is a NASA Mechanical Engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He currently works on projects where he designs mechanical systems for NASA’s robotic space research missions, with a focus on Planetary Sample Acquisition and Handling. His most extensive contributions are for missions to the planet Mars. Yazzie is dedicated to STEM outreach, especially to Indigenous Communities like his home community, the Navajo Nation. Most recently, Yazzie was the recipient of the 2021 award for Technical Excellence from AISES.

Organizations Supporting and Empowering Native Americans



The American Indian Science and Engineering Society is a national nonprofit organization focused on substantially increasing the representation of Indigenous peoples of North America and the Pacific Islands in science, technology, engineering, and math studies and careers.



The Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science is a society that aims to further the success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American students in obtaining advanced degrees, careers, leadership positions, and equality in the STEM field.



The Native American Development Corporation is a hub for American Indian businesses and provides technical assistance, financial lending opportunities, and champions small businesses and tribes in order to empower Indian communities toward economic and social stability.

Increasing the Representation of Indigenous People

Published five times a year in print and digital formats by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Winds of Change magazine has a focus on career and educational advancement for native people in STEM.
Learn MoreWinds of Change

10 Native American Inventions Commonly Used Today

Native American engineering is all around us. From kayaks to contraceptives to pain relievers, Native Americans developed key innovations long before Columbus reached the Americas.
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Celebrating Native American Heritage Month with SWE

In 2020, the Society of Women Engineers had a conversation with Laura Smith-Velazquez to discuss the importance of Native American Heritage Month. Smith-Velazquez is an SWE Member, SWE Native-American Affinity Group lead, and winner of the 2020 American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Technical Excellence Award. Learn about her experience as a minority engineer and the importance of diversity and inclusion within STEM careers.
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AISES: Building a STEM Pathway for Native Students

The option to pursue a career in STEM should be available to all students. Kathy DeerInWater, Chief Program Officer for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society discusses the importance of increasing STEM access for Native American students.

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The SME Education Foundation’s renewed and focused commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) provides increased opportunities to underrepresented and disadvantaged communities across the country.