This blog was written in partnership with Michael Charles. Ph.D. student and Intel Legacy Scholar.
Navigating today’s educational and professional pipeline is a difficult task for many American Indian students. I spent my childhood and young adult years traveling between my home in Colorado and visiting family on the Navajo Nation. Since I grew up in a predominantly-white community, my cultural experiences were mostly condensed into family vacations. I struggled to balance two detached worlds, while also lacking Native peers, teachers, and mentors in the education system for guidance. Once I graduated high school, I moved to New York to attend Cornell University.
At Cornell I found a community of indigenous of people who had experienced similar struggles. I was fortunate to live in a program house specifically catered to American Indian students. During my undergraduate career I continued to learn balance (hozho) between my indigenous culture and formal education. I spent more time learning my culture and began to recognize the value of traditional indigenous knowledge within these academic institutions.
Today, I’m a chemical engineering Ph.D. student. Along the way, I’ve learned that engineering is often reductionist in its approach to quantifying knowledge and imposing dominance and control on nature. This contrasts with the indigenous pursuit of harmony with all life. I believe that science and engineering need to embrace more of these indigenous values as an alternative to the traditional reductionist approach. Expanding problem-solving framework to include natural ecosystems, future generations, and indigenous resource management practices will bring better solutions that adapt to the needs of today’s society.
Throughout my higher education journey, I have been deeply involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). AISES was similar to my local indigenous family at Cornell, but on a much larger scale. It connected me with people all over the world to help support me in my work, cultural learning, and struggles in bringing two worlds and knowledge systems together. This family brought mentorship, encouragement, and motivation to reach my full potential.
AISES also introduced me to Intel’s Legacy Scholar Program, whose financial support allows me to focus on my research. Today I am exploring how ecological, atmospheric transport, and process design models can come together to impact air quality regulations. The goal is to find “win-win” solutions that reduce environmental impacts, while enabling businesses to grow. An example is balancing the reduction in industrial emissions with increased capacity of nature to regulate those emissions through sequestration and leaf adsorption. Research like this can reveal the value of the land on which we live, and reveal the value of indigenous knowledge within engineering.
Working with Intel has been a great start on this journey.