When Lias Hastings began working on a degree in environmental sciences and wildlife biology at Northern Arizona University, he didn’t know he would be able to conduct research right away- until he learned about the Ottens’ Undergraduate Research Grant for Native Americans in Health and Environmental Sciences.

Now Hastings, a sophomore in his second year of the grant, regularly conducts field research and is working with his mentor, Carol Chambers, a professor in NAU’s School of Forestry, to help eradicate rabies in northern Arizona bats.

“My research experience has been great,” said Hastings, who has been radio “tagging” bats to track them. “The hands-on learning and program support keeps me on track and very interested in my studies.”

Hastings is one of seven students receiving Ottens’ support this year. The Ottens’ award program matches mentors with freshman, sophomore and Native transfer students aspiring to work in health-related professions and environmental scientific research. Students work with faculty and peer mentors for about 15 months, including two summers and two academic years, to experience and conduct research.

The program provides students up to $8,000 each to assist with college expenses. Students receive additional support through career counseling provided by NAU’s Native American Student Services, which provides programs to ease students’ transition to college and to connect students with resources that help ensure academic and personal success.

Directed by Jani Ingram, an associate professor in chemistry, the Ottens’ grant third-year recipients include Hastings, Nicole Cody, environmental studies; Kristy Dennison, athletic training; Eudora Redhouse, community health; Erelda Gene, nursing; Samantha Leffler, environmental and indigenous studies; and Joy Tso, speech therapy.

“We want you to take advantage of the tools and opportunity that NAU can provide,” Ingram advised the students during a recent recipient lunch. “Opportunity is knocking, answer this door.”

William Wiist, special assistant to the executive dean of the College of Health and Human Services, has been a mentor in the program for several semesters and agrees the grant is a great way for Native students to learn and stay focused on their academic track.

Redhouse hopes to bring her nursing skills back to her home community in Shiprock, N.M., and Leffler is interested in becoming an educator to help Native youth stay off alcohol and drugs. Cody is working toward a cleaner environment for future generations, and Gene and Tso are pursuing degrees that will help them keep their communities healthy.