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Native American Students Get Programmed to Succeed : Education: The Eight-week American Indian Summer Institute at UC Irvine provides internships and computer mentoring from mainstream firms for 39 young people from across the U.S.


IRVINE — His long black hair tied back in a ponytail, Carl Lufkins jokes that he's aiming for a more corporate look.

Not that his mentors at Toshiba America Electronic Components Inc. seemed concerned about the appearance of the summer intern. Instead, for a visitor's benefit, Toshiba employees grill Lufkins, 27, and his colleague Dawn Old Elk, 22, on their four-week jobs at the components manufacturing company.

Both Native American college students spent most of August learning about the flow of data within Toshiba's management systems--from customer orders to accounts receivable--and studied the computer programming used to move those thousands of pages worth of information through the company's ordering process.

Toshiba's systems, built around an 8-year-old IBM mid-range computer, have been updated several times to keep up with the company's demands. But the older machine did not diminish what Lufkins and Old Elk had to say about their internships, which they described as far superior to alternatives they had back home--in Sisseton, S.D., and Billings, Mont., respectively.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 31, 1994 Orange County Edition Business Part D Page 2 Column 6 Financial Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Computer training--Canon Information Systems should have been listed among the sponsors of UC Irvine's American Indian Summer Institute in Computer Science in a story Sunday.

The two were among 39 Native American students from community colleges in the western United States who recently completed the American Indian Summer Institute in Computer Science at UC Irvine. The class was composed of people from 25 different tribes and nations, including Cree, Navajo, Apache and Washoe, said program officials.

The students spent the first half of the eight-week program in UCI classrooms and computer labs, taking classes in computer science, programming, and research skills.

They then worked as interns at 16 Southern California companies, mainly in Orange County. Altogether, 21 businesses have contributed a total of $200,000 to the program over the last two years. The program has also received National Science Foundation grants totaling about $430,000 over the last two years, said program administrator Essie Lev.

The computer science institute is aimed at students from rural areas and smaller cities, who otherwise would have more difficulty learning about technical fields.

The nine-member faculty also hopes the program will encourage students to transfer from the junior colleges they now attend to four-year undergraduate programs.

Ada Shane, a 30-year-old student at Little Bighorn Community College in Crow Agency, Mont., said the UCI classes and her internship at Unisys Corp. will help her pursue an accounting career, a field increasingly dependent on knowledge of computers and programming.

At Unisys, Shane worked with company accountants on a cost-allocating project, and assisted customers calling the company's help line.

Shane said she had already learned how to use a few basic software programs, such as spreadsheets, while working as a secretary. But, as a mother, it was not easy to balance her full-time job with community college classes and child rearing.

"At home, people are so family-oriented . . . it's hard to get the focus on school," said Shane, a member of the Crow tribe. She originally had been admitted to the UCI program last year, but decided that her daughter--then 2--was too young to leave for most of the summer.

Company officials said their student interns helped managers rethink how they operate their businesses.

"We got some sharp students," said Darrell Lynn, a Toshiba spokesman. "They ask the kinds of questions that an insider tends to forget to ask."

Gordon Quayle, who works in development services at Unisys Corp.'s Mission Viejo facility, praised Navajo intern Christine Ann Smith, 23, for writing a database program within a week of her arrival.

The interns probably "come in with an idea of what a corporation must be like, that it's kind of stuffy," he said. "I hope this is an eye-opening experience for them."

Despite the obvious enthusiasm of the companies and students, the program does not ensure all its graduates will seek higher scientific or technical degrees.

Of the 60 students who completed the program during its first two years, fewer than a third have transferred or are in the process of transferring from two-year to four-year colleges, said program officials. One reason for the low number is that some of last year's class returned for additional training this summer, while others are working to save money to help finance four-year degree programs, officials said.

Lev, the UCI program administrator, said the transfer rate is a reminder of the difficulties facing Native Americans, the least visible of minorities in the technical fields.

Of 24,557 bachelor's degrees awarded in computer sciences in the United States during the 1991-92 academic year, the most recent year for which figures are available, only 81 were given to students who identified themselves as Native Americans or Alaskan Natives, according to the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology in Washington. In contrast, African Americans earned 2,147 of those degrees and Latinos earned 901.

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