Main Navigation

Humans of the U: Nizhoni Porter

Nizhoni Porter is one of the graduates the U will be celebrating during the May 2023 commencement ceremony.

“When I was about five years old, I got a tooth infection from a previous cavity. My father was in law school and my mother was a stay-at-home parent, so we didn’t have money to go to a private dentist. However, we lived near San Francisco and there was a Native American dental clinic where University of California San Francisco dental school graduates completed their residency. There, we could get affordable and quality care.

My case required many follow-up visits, and my dentist, Dr. Brown, would take the time to explain what was going to happen and ensure I wasn’t scared of the procedures. I spent so much time there, and she created such a great experience that I enjoyed going to the dental clinic. Since then, I have wanted to become a dentist and help people the way Dr. Brown helped me. I will be applying to dental school this fall.

My family and community have always encouraged me to get my education and return to help the people. Growing up, I lived away from the Navajo Nation, but we visited to participate in cultural events with family. My great-grandmother never received a formal education. She raised sheep to make wool rugs and learned to silversmith jewelry to make a living. It was hard for her, and she wanted her descendants to have a better life. She always pushed us to get an education, work hard, and provide for ourselves.

Diné is the name of our tribe, and it translates to “the people”; as a member of the Diné, I want to share my experience and knowledge and give back to my community. Many Indigenous children on the reservation do not enter higher education because it demands a lot from people. It is challenging to see the benefits of education when other alternatives are easier and have more immediate benefits. I want to be a role model and show how education can help accomplish goals and be rewarding.

One opportunity that was especially rewarding to me was the Native American Research Internship (NARI) program at the U. NARI allowed me to meet other Indigenous students on a similar path to mine. This unique program allowed us to discuss health and education within an Indigenous context. All the people within my cohort were inspiring and had amazing stories about why they wanted to participate in research and continue in higher education. In addition, this program allowed me to meet my research mentor, who encouraged me to continue research and opened doors I never dreamed possible. Because of this program, I joined the office of undergraduate research here at the U. I presented and attended numerous conferences nationwide and was able to present at the 2022 SACNAS conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with other NARI students. I have connected with many amazing people who have helped me grow and led me to new paths I hadn’t considered for myself, and I am so grateful to them for those experiences.”

—Nizhoni Porter, Class of 2023, BS in Health, Society and Policy, College of Social & Behavioral Science