Madison AISES Chapter to compete in Albuquerque March 23-27
Scientific Brain Trust
Seated: AISES students Gabriel Saiz (l-r), Gabriel Burns, Jorge
Saiz, Timothy Byington-Fish, Vaughn Bahr Standing: Denise
Thomas, Brian Kingfisher, Esther Kingfisher, Rachel Byington
By Jonathan Gramling
Five members of AISES, the American Indian Science and
Engineering Society, sat on the floor of the Sequoya Public Library as
Esther Kingfisher, a UW-Madison student, shot rapid-fire science
questions at the middle-school students. For some, I didn’t know the
question, much less the answer. But the students shot answers right
back, more often right than wrong. And if a wrong answer is given,
Kingfisher discussed the correct answer with them.
The students are preparing to compete in the first Inter-Tribal Science
Bowl in Albuquerque March 23-27. It seems as if the students are peaking
at the right time.
AISES is part of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Title VII
programming, a federal grant program to assist American Indian students
to perform academically on a par with their peers. “We look at the data
from Title VII students and then we plan how we are going to use the grant
to meet the students’ needs,” sai9d Rachel Byington, MMSD’s Title VII
coordinator. “We also do a needs assessment. We are looking at reading,
science and math scores and then we try to provide programming that
will help the students be at the same level academically that the students
are at as a whole.”
In addition to offering tutoring and other services, Title VII coordinates two student organizations, UNITY, United National Indian Tribal
Youth, works with the students in the humanities using spoken word. And then AISES works with the students in the STEM areas: science,
technology, engineering and math. The programs alternate every other Sunday for two hour meetings.
And the students get to do a lot of cool stuff. “Last year, they worked on a diabetes education project where they went to the Indigenous
Health and Wellness Days at UW-Madison and presented their research,” Byington said. “The students created an interactive poster board to
teach students their age about diabetes, what it is and the myths and truths behind diabetes because it is such an epidemic even with
Also looking on as the students practice is Denise Thomas, the AISES coordinator, who splits her time between AISES and WiscAMP,
which encourages participation by underrepresented groups in the STEM fields at UW-Madison. She keeps the students busy year round.
“Last semester, we had a food science as our topic,” Thomas said. “We looked at the science behind making food and processing food.
Then we switched and now we are doing environmental studies for this semester, which will include working at the mounds restoration in
the UW Arboretum. During the summer, I want to keep them together because we sometimes seem to lose a little bit and it is hard to pick the
momentum back up at the beginning of the school year. This summer, I want to do some watershed monitoring with them and possibly some
other projects that we have been working on like the ladybug project and work with Google Imaging.”
Gabriel Saiz, a 7th grader who is the captain of the AISES team, wasn’t into science and technology at all until the end of 6th grade
when a technology class fired his imagination. And he has been turned on to STEM ever since. Even though he is interested in politics, Saiz
knows that STEM is important too.
“As President Obama said, we need to win the future,” Saiz said. “And no doubt, science and math are some of the most important
things about winning the future, medical science and life science. We need to understand more about the earth t o get more resources out of
it like geothermal energy. It’s a new power source. We need to know more about the insides of the earth. We’re keeping the mortality rate
much lower now. And this is the most important thing about winning the future.”
Although it has cut into his free time and hanging out with his friends because the preparation involves three sessions per week, Saiz
is glad he made the commitment to the Science Bowl. “I usually don’t get to hang out with my brother much in school because he is on the
upper floor,” Saiz said. “It is extremely fun to be doing this with my brother. It shows me how much he has learned. It shows me how much
he has matured over the years since I don’t get to see him in school.”
The Science Bowl involves five team members from two schools squaring off against each other in 15-minute matches. The questions
are broken into two types: toss-up questions that anyone can answer and bonus round questions that only Saiz will be able to answer as the
“If someone else knows the answer, they are going to tell them to me,” Saiz said. “And I am going to have to put a lot more research
into the bonus rounds because I am going to be the one answering. That is a little bit of extra pressure, but I think I am good to handle that.”
An additional benefit for the students when they go to Albuquerque is they will be able to meet their peers from around the U.S. “We get to
meet a lot of different Indian cultures that we haven’t had any face-to-face contact with from around the country,” Saiz said. “You read about
them in school and stuff, but you never get the chance to get to know the culture well until you meet some of its members.”
AISES is a great boost to the students as they learn scientific concepts 1-2 grade levels ahead of them and as they feel pride about their
heritage. No matter how they do in Albuquerque, the AISES students are bringing home the gold.