Native undergrads get hands-on research experience and funding


Receiving an Ottens’ Scholarship not only gave Charmayne Sandoval the financial boost she needs to attend NAU, it also is giving her the chance to make a difference.

“I am getting the chance to help my own people and make a real difference in the world,” said Sandoval, a sophomore biology student and recipient of an Ottens’ Undergraduate Research Grant for Native Americans in Health and Environmental Sciences.

Sandoval is working with NAU researcher Stefanie Raymond-Whish, who last year was the first Navajo woman to receive a Ph.D. in biological sciences from NAU. Together they are working to determine whether the old uranium mines might explain the increase in cancers on the Navajo Nation.

“Working with Stefanie I am learning that hard work pays off,” Sandoval said. “This also is a good opportunity to go back and tell my community that there is funding to help Native students.”

The Ottens’ award program matches mentors with freshman and sophomore Native students aspiring to work in health-related professions and environmental scientific research. Students work with mentors for about 15 months, including two summers and two academic years, to experience and conduct research.

Directed by Jani Ingram, an associate professor in chemistry, the program’s second-year recipients are sophomores Sandoval, Cristal Gomez, a chemistry major who is matched with Ingram as her mentor, and Kayleen Wilson, who is researching community outreach projects in the dental hygiene program.

“This program stimulates research by having students work with a faculty mentor in research areas that could result in students pursuing health or environmental science professions,” Ingram said.

New Navajo freshman students to the program include Danielle Charley in nursing, Lias Hastings in environmental science and Michael Flanagan, in biology.

“It feels really good to be a part of this program and the money is helping me and my family a lot,” Charley said. “My family is proud of me.”

Hastings said, “I did a lot of research for scholarships, and I couldn’t find any others that included the opportunity to actually conduct research. I am glad to be included.”

The program, supported by the John and Sophia Ottens Foundation, provides students up to $8,000 each to assist with college expenses. Students receive additional support through career counseling provided by NAU’s Native Student Services.