NAU’s summer scholars bring home important lessons

Nearly 60 Native American students spent a week on the Northern Arizona University campus recently, learning to apply science and technology lessons to issues in their local community.

Participants in the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals’ Summer Scholars program included middle and high school students, accompanied by teachers and tribal environmental professionals from Shonto, Tuba City and the Kaibab Paiute Reservation.

The focus of the three one-week sessions was indoor air quality and the impact of poor air quality on human health. Mold, carbon monoxide, radon and an introduction to building science are some of the topics that were discussed. Following the one-week session on the NAU campus, staff members from ITEP’s Environmental Education Outreach Program worked with the students to conduct an indoor air quality assessment for their school.

“The school assessment will allow the students to demonstrate their new problem-solving skills in their own community,” said Matthew Zierenberg, director of Summer Scholars.

All Summer Scholars participants also received a carbon monoxide alarm to install in their home. Field trips included a visit to a nearby off-campus building to perform an assessment of potential indoor air quality pollutants. The exercise allowed students and educators alike to put what they learned to the test. A visit to an indoor air quality lab in Phoenix rounded out the week by providing students an opportunity to understand how environmental samples collected in the field are analyzed and translated into useful information.

The Summer Scholars program was aided by eight NAU students who acted as assistant instructors and mentors. Guest presenters included NAU faculty and staff from engineering, chemistry and communications as well as tribal environmental professionals from the Navajo Nation and the Intertribal Council of Arizona.

A sampling of comments from participants in Summer Scholars shows that the program was enjoyed by students and school sponsors alike.

Students described the program as “great” and “awesome” with one saying it is a “cool, cool, cool program.”

The Environmental Education Outreach Program and ITEP offer a variety of services to tribal schools and Native Americans, including internships, mentoring and career orientations. ITEP, which also provides training for tribal environmental professionals, is affiliated with NAU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.

Information about the Summer Scholars program is available at or (928) 523-8864.