BOZEMAN -- A research collaboration between Blackfeet Community College and Montana State University involving tribal college students that looks at the health effects of stress on Native American communities has been featured in a national journal.

Blackfeet Community College undergraduate students are investigating stress and disease susceptibility on the Blackfeet reservation. From left: Megan Gordon, Sequoia Reevis, Wil Horn, Scott Ollinger, Jerry Racine, Davida Grant, Aidan Higgins. Not pictured: Jolynn Running Wolf. (Contributed photo)

The article, "The Spirit of Our People Runs Deep: How a Program at Blackfeet Community College Offers Students Biomedical Research Experience," was published Oct. 22 in the Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education online. It is the leading scholarly and journalistic publication featuring the achievements of the nation's 38 tribal colleges and universities.

Bill Stadwiser, the program communication specialist for Montana INBRE who wrote the article, said the collaboration shows what can happen when academics and communities discuss problems and solutions on an equal footing.

"The work that the BCC undergraduates are doing on this project is really quite impressive and on par or even more sophisticated than some of the research happening at larger institutions in the state," he said.

Students working on the project investigate the relationship between stress and disease on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Glacier National Park and how to reduce stress by building a sense of community, said Betty Henderson-Matthews, chair of the BCC Math and Science Division and INBRE project leader.

The students have surveyed 350 tribal members on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation between the ages of 18 and 80 since the BCC-MSU collaboration began in 2012. The students also collected saliva and blood samples for testing to reveal more about the connection between stress and disease. More recently, the students expanded their research to look for ways to reduce ongoing stress by building community through hikes and talks about the importance of culture, place and staying active.

The project exemplifies long-term, community-based participatory research, meaning that “it fosters a partnership where communities are equitable collaborators in all phases of research and cultivate an environment for producing mutually beneficial goals,” said Ann Bertagnolli, Montana program coordinator and director of the Community Engagement Core.

"Investments in undergraduate research at tribal colleges are building professional, academic and social bridges between institutions like Montana State University and Blackfeet Community College,” Stadwiser said.

"The significance of the collaboration is that it develops the student pipeline into biomedical research and careers, has developed and works to sustain a relationship focused on community-based participatory research and uses this CBPR approach to collaborate on improved health for the Blackfeet Nation," Bertagnolli said.

Founded in 2001, Montana INBRE is a network of 16 tribal colleges, community colleges and universities focused on building biomedical research capacity and a workforce pipeline in Montana. The research is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.