They Know Who They Are: The 2014 Native American Research Internship

May 28, 2014 12:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

When you know who you are; when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will; no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose. You know that you are alive.

Chief Seattle, Duwamish Chief

With the words of Chief Seattle, Dr. Carrie Byington welcomed the members of the 2014 Native American Summer Research Internship (NARI). For the next ten weeks these students will work together, live together, and learn together, exploring career opportunities in the health sciences. Eventually, the students hope to use those careers to better serve Native American populations all across the country.

NARI began in 2010 after doctors from the University of Utah met with tribal elders to discuss Native American medical issues. The elders said they wanted to see more of their young people becoming scientists and doctors. Dr. Maija Hoslti, who oversees NARI,  was there to greet the first class of just four students. In the past four years that number has more than quadrupled, and this year’s internship has 20 participants. They represent nine tribes and 10 states including Utah, New Mexico, and even Mississippi.

For many, this is not their first time participating with the internship. This year’s class includes some, like Danielle Holliday, who are doing the program for the second or even third time. Holliday says she was excited to come back after participating last year. “Participating in this program has opened so many doors for me,” she says,” I’ve actually done two research projects, this will be my third one, and I will be published in three research papers.”

Holliday is studying anthropology with a health emphasis, while others in the internship are studying everything from biology to health communications. Joel Begay says he is using the internship to decide exactly what path he should take. “I’ve been doing pulmonary medicine for the past three years so I want to make sure pulmonary medicine is the thing I want to do” he says. Begay has big plans too. He says “I know I want to get a masters in public health and an MD.”

NARI is making it possible for more Native American students like Begay to go get advanced degrees in the health sciences. Since the first group four years ago five of the students have been accepted into medical schools and many more are now studying for their master degrees in fields ranging from public health to social work.

While the focus is on science during these 10 weeks, students in the internship are also encouraged to interact with Native American research communities, and are given a cultural mentor as well as a research mentor for the duration of the program. Some of the students, like Begay, are also serving as teachers as well. “I developed a curriculum for our interns that will explore public health issues in Native American populations,” he says. ”That curriculum is oriented around the 10 leading causes of death in Native populations.” Such dedication from Begay, Holliday, and others in the internship ensure that the elders dream of having their young people in the sciences – will become a reality