As we conclude the celebration of Native American Heritage Month, let us take a moment to recognize some of our outstanding Native community members who contribute to the University of Utah in various ways. Through their work, they provide mentorship to students formally and informally. Through their exceptional experiences and expertise, they continue to contribute to campus and community transformation. Keep reading to see who we've highlighted. View last year's list here.
Aaron Smith (Navajo) first came to the U in 2018 as an anesthesiology resident. He finished his residency program this July and started a pain medicine fellowship in August.
Smith attended medical school at the University of Minnesota from 2014 to 2018. Outside of work he enjoys playing basketball and volleyball and going skiing.
“I am interested in collaborating with others at the U to address the health disparities that exist in access and quality of healthcare among Native American populations,” Smith said. “This has led me to be involved in mentorship and outreach towards Native American students with an interest in healthcare professions.”
Aldora White Eagle is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. As a first-generation student, her goals are aimed to further educational opportunities for all Indigenous youth.
White Eagle joined the U in September of this year. She earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wyoming with a minor in American Indian Studies as well as a Teachers of American Indian Certificate. Her professional background includes having worked as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program coordinator at the University of South Dakota and as director of American Indian Student Services at the University of Colorado.
Currently, as a postdoc scholar at the University of Utah, White Eagle's responsibilities include assisting with research related to the Working with Native Communities Certificate program, assisting research on how non-Native certificate holders view engagement/partnership efforts with Native nations and assisting in facilitating the study—from research design, collection and analysis to publications, assisting in the writing of manuscripts, conference proposals, and other materials to disseminate those findings. White Eagle's work is published in the Journal of American Indian Education.
White Eagle's passion is to create an equally just curriculum and pedagogy in education for not only her grandchildren but for all Indigenous students.
“I am honored to be chosen as a postdoc scholar and to work alongside the esteemed Dr. Cynthia Benally,” White Eagle said. "I hope to gain more knowledge of Indigenizing the educational experiences, needs, and goals of Indigenous students and communities.”
Ariel Roddy (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa) is an assistant professor in criminology and criminal justice in the Department of Sociology. She joined the faculty in fall 2022.
She earned her doctorate at Michigan State University in criminal justice and holds master's degrees in applied and computational mathematics and economics. Her research focuses on the economic marginalization of and barriers to reentry and recovery for justice-involved women of color. In recent work, she also investigates culturally responsive efforts for substance use treatment for Indigenous populations. In her spare time, she enjoys roller skating, beadwork, rock climbing and hiking with her dog Rupert.
“Increasing Native student representation in criminology, a major that discusses crucial policy issues, is one of my core missions,” Roddy said. “I look forward to expanding access to criminal justice education and contributing to the vibrant and growing Indigenous community at the U.”
Ashlee Roberts (Navajo) is a senior majoring in kinesiology with a minor in chemistry on a pre-medicine track.
“I chose the U because it allowed me to excel in many programs while also providing an excellent education. I have loved my time here at the U and am fortunate to have received all these opportunities for success these past few years,” Roberts said.
As an undergraduate student, Roberts has been involved with many organizations and activities on and off campus including Meals on Wheels, the Chi Omega Xi Alpha chapter, the Rodan Lab of Human Genetics, the Women's WCLA Lacrosse team and the Learning Assistant Program. In April of this year, she was elected and hired to be the vice president of student relations for the Associated Students of the University of Utah.
“One of my main agendas in this position is to improve the experience of incoming and current students of all genders and ethnicities at the University of Utah,” she said. “I believe the student experience is a vital part of a student's success and to improve that experience, I have been working with student groups and leaders to improve how students are connected to projects and events on campus and university leadership as well. I work with an excellent team and look forward to the rest of my term with them.”
Roberts will graduate next spring and plans to apply to medical school and pursue a career as a licensed physician.
Donna Eldridge is a member of the Navajo Nation and grew up on the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico. In 2012, she earned a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Utah. In 2013, she received her master's degree in social work from the University of Utah.
Eldridge is interested in championing social justice issues and advocating for underrepresented populations. As the associate director in the Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, she works on educational outreach for K-12 students. Her programs are designed to stimulate student learning, create an interest in science and expose students to medicine and related fields to ultimately create a gateway to higher education.
“I came to the U because my sister and mom are alumni,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know students and developing a culture of inclusion in which students experience a sense of belonging, engagement and achievement.”
Faith Bowman (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans) is currently a doctoral candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Programs fellow in the Department of Biochemistry.
As a predoctoral trainee in the Holland Lab, Bowman investigates the transcriptional repressor FOXN3 and its role in Glucagon Receptor Antagonist (GRA)-mediated Cardioprotection. As a proud Indigenous scholar from the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation in Wisconsin, Bowman is committed to increasing diversity and being a bridge between Indian Country and the scientific community.
Bowman has served on the inaugural youth council for the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) and is currently the president of the U's SACNAS Chapter.
Hailee Roberts is the daughter of the Big Water and Edge Water clans, enrolled in the Navajo Nation as a full-blooded Diné and was born and raised in Salt Lake City.
Roberts attended the University of Utah and graduated with a bachelor of science in kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise sports science with minors in nutrition and health. Currently the new program coordinator at the American Indian Resource Center, Roberts supports the social integration and academic skills development of Native students and guides students' personal and cultural assets to ensure a rich college experience all while setting them up for post-graduation success.
“I chose the University of Utah to be part of the Native American community I was raised in to continue my personal growth and contribute back to my community,” Roberts said. “With my new position here at the university, I can help the American Indian Resource Center grow with numerous collaborations and programming events to engage with other fellow Native American faculty, staff, students and community members.”
Heather Tanana is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a Research Professor and Stegner Center Fellow at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Tanana practiced law for several years before completing a clerkship with U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer and joining the world of academia.
Her career has been driven by her personal commitment to serving her people and promoting diversity in the legal field. Tanana’s research interests include exploring the overlay between environmental and health policy in Indian Country. Over the past year, much of her work has focused on the Water & Tribe Initiative Universal Access to Clean Water. The project seeks to bring awareness to the lack of clean, safe and reliable drinking water in tribal communities and to make tangible progress on securing water access for all Americans.
“I care deeply about building the capacity of Native communities to exercise tribal self-governance to the fullest extent by developing, implementing and enforcing their own laws and regulations in order to protect their communities and to promote their general well-being,” Tanana said.
Tanana was hired by the U in 2019. She earned her J.D. from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and her MPH from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prior to joining the law school, she was a shareholder at Richards Brandt Miller Nelson.
Jewel D. Poss (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) began her administrative career at Indian Health Service in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. She has moved around a lot as an adult—South Dakota, North Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana and finally Utah. She joined the U in 2018 and brought skills from various industries to her current role as the executive assistant for the vice president of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion. She loves bringing creativity into her home with painting, crafting and music.
“I feel like there is a growing sense of belonging here at the U and being part of EDI has allowed me to be part of that work,” Poss said.
Kiyanna Porter (Navajo) is an honors student at the University of Utah currently pursuing a math degree and a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. Porter hopes to next attend graduate school.
Porter is the American Indian Woman Scholar for 2022 and is a co-liaison for the Inter-Tribal Student Association.
“I am working hard to help other Indigenous students who want to be a part of the STEM field to see that their voices and representation matter,” Porter said. “I am also doing my best to make my family proud and honor the ones we lost along the way.”
Kyri Ungatavinekent-Duncan (Northern Ute, Uncompahgre Band) is the Inter-Tribal Student Association advisor and American Indian/Indigenous Engagement at the Center for Equity and Student Belonging. He completed a B.S. at the U in strategic communications with a minor in design and was hired by the U in November 2021.
“I am a very energetic and creative person to connect with,” Ungatavinekent-Duncan said. “My hobbies and interests will most likely overlap or surface when engaging with me. Some of those activities include figure collecting, music making and sharing good conversations.”
Ungatavinekent-Duncan came to the U for school because he wanted to have pride in saying that he is “a Ute both culturally and academically.”
“Now that I have graduated and currently work at the university, it is an even greater privilege to reconnect with my community and help support them in ways that our AI/I peoples know how to. There is nothing more meaningful than that,” he said.
Laura Bell is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She is currently a doctoral andidate in neuroscience at the University of Utah where she researches the role of glial cells and neuroinflammation in the development of seizures and epilepsy. She is a recent recipient of the NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (2021-2026). During her time at the U, Bell has served as both a cultural and research mentor for the Native American Research Internship (NARI) program.
Leonard Almero is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of California San Diego with a B.S. in biochemistry and cell biology.
In 2018, he conducted cardiology research through the Native American Research Internship (NARI) program here at the University of Utah. He feels cardiovascular disease is near and dear to all our hearts especially because of its prevalence in his own family and how much of an impact it has on many of our tribal communities.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death among Native Americans and the death rate is approximately 20% higher than any other race in the U.S. Almero has come back to the University of Utah and is conducting cardiology research in the Yost lab through the Intermountain Postbaccalaureate Research education program (IM-PREP).
Almero currently serves as the president of the Inter-Tribal Student Association. He is proud and honored to lead an organization that’s mission is to provide strong community support for native students and their allies on the U campus. To continue to build a strong community on campus he is starting the U-RISE initiative—Utah's Resilient Indigenous Students of Excellence. This initiative is a peer-mentorship program where Native students will be able to mentor other Native students.
“It just takes one person to make a connection to help guide you on your journey and make an impact in your life,” Almero said. “I am lucky that I have had many mentors who have helped me be successful.”
In his free time, you can find Almero at the American Indian Resource Center studying, hanging out with friends or playing hacky sack (weather permitting).
Samantha is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and has over 10 years of experience in local, state, and tribal government and academia. In February of this year, she became the interim director of the American Indian Resource Center and in September she became the center’s director.
Her vision for the American Indian Resource Center is to create a vibrant and welcoming community space rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing and learning; lead meaningful engagement opportunities that create pathways for the personal and professional advancement of Native students, faculty, and staff; and serve tribal communities while elevating the sovereignty of tribal nations.
Scott Willie (Navajo) received his bachelor's degree from the University of New Mexico. He worked for five years for the Native American Summer Research Internship program which is a national award-winning program that supports American Indian & Alaska Native undergraduate students interested in biomedical and health science research. He was hired by the U in 2016 and is the MD/PhD Program Coordinator at the School of Medicine.
“I credit my profession to my grandmother, Mary Willie, who saw immense potential in the field of medicine for me,” Willie said. “Little did I know, it would be in academic medicine.”
Willie enjoys the wonderful outdoors of Utah, especially hiking. He loves playing basketball and volleyball.
“I came to the U because of its familiarity with the NARI program and the native faculty and staff who I would be surrounded by when working here,” Willie said. “I came to the U to help elevate the field of medicine and research for students who were curious about the world STEM. I came to the U to help make a difference in the lives of native students.”
Stephanie Begaye (Navajo) graduated from the U with double majors in psychology and behavioral science and health. Her first job out of college was as a residential shelter advocate at a Women’s Shelter. Shortly after that, she accepted a staff assistant position at a small college in her hometown. That position introduced her to working in the world of higher ed and provided her with the opportunity to work with students – which she absolutely loved.
“I was interested in working with students more closely, so I decided to become an Academic Advisor,” Begaye said “I started advising at the U in 2015 and have been here ever since!”
Begaye loves spending time with her family. She is a mom of two so she always feels like she is on the move. She enjoys watching college football, being outdoors, bargain hunting, and trying new foods.
“I loved my time at the U during my undergrad, so I was excited to return and support students as they navigate their academics and find their place here,” Begaye said. “I’m committed to helping students identify their interests and discovering their unique paths.”
Tashina Barber is a citizen of the Diné nation belonging to the Near the Water Clan people, born for the Folded Arms people, hailing from Rock Point and Chilchinbeto, Arizona. Barber started at the U on Sept. 12, 2022, as the Program Manager in the American Indian Resource Center where she works on programs and initiatives focused on Native students.
Prior to coming to the U, Barber worked at Weber State University as a Multicultural Retention Counselor in the Center for Multicultural Excellence where she worked with students from underrepresented populations and advised the Native American Student Association. She obtained her Master’s of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy with an emphasis in Student Affairs from the University of Utah. Her work focuses on Native American students in higher education and the necessity to incorporate retention programs that encourage the cultural values of Native people.
Barber’s biggest accomplishment as a professional in higher education is supporting students to graduation while encouraging them to be their authentic selves. She is also proud of participating and planning pow-wow celebrations on college campuses.
“It is a great honor and privilege to work alongside Native students, faculty, and staff in truly creating access, community, and transforming the lives of students by meeting them where they are, challenging and guiding them to achieve their goals academically and in life,” Barber said.
TeMerae (Te) Blackwater (Diné) became a health educator at the Center for Student Wellness in 2018. She earned a bachelor of science degree in health promotion and education with an emphasis on community health and is currently in the Master of Public Health Program.
Blackwater is an experienced health educator and advocate in the field of public health, violence prevention and sexual wellness. Prior to her role, Blackwater gained community health experience in an HIV/HCV/substance abuse prevention program and gain advocacy experience with the Rape Recovery Center.
In her current role, Blackwater oversees free HIV and STI mobile testing clinics, co-supervises a peer-health education program, operates a free condoms distribution program and provides support for health promotion and education programs. Blackwater is working in fostering leadership and leading by example. She connects with individuals through sharing space and providing a space.
Many are welcome to come by to chat with Blackwater for support in navigating life, sexuality, sex, identity, motherhood or as a survivor of sexual assault.