Nadira Mitchell, an ambitious freshman studying Wildlife Conservation, recently attended the Southwest Indian Agriculture Association (SWIAA) 32nd Annual Conference in Laughlin, NV where she received the Roe B. Lewis Scholarship. The conference enabled Nadira to share her academic journey as well as promote a new organization at University of Arizona started by her and her peers: American Indian Student Initiatives (AISI). Her presentation caught the attention of a tribal natural resource manager, who hopes to collaborate with AISI to create a recycling program in his community.
Nadira and her colleagues created AISI to raise awareness and mitigate environmental injustice on Indigenous lands, such as the abandoned uranium mines contaminating Navajo land, water, and air. The club is also engaging with their local community through conferences, volunteering, and partnerships. In just one semester, AISI has formed a partnership with Baboquivari high school to start a recycling program and have also partnered with Grid Alternatives to install solar panels for Navajo families in New Mexico. Stay updated with the club?s progress by following their Instagram @ua_aisi
Last week?s SWIAA meeting may have been her first conference, but it isn?t Nadira?s first time engaging in formal scientific endeavors. As a high schooler, Nadira participated in Arizona MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement), an after-school outreach program offered by the University of Arizona, during which she engaged in engineering competitions throughout her high school career. MESA not only introduced her to creative problem-solving, but also gave her experience in presenting her results in a written and oral format, as well as pitching her ideas to a review board. Nadira also spent the weekends of her senior year working with Dr. Melanie Culver?s lab researching genetic connectivity between bobcats across the Mexico-US border. She found that bobcats in Sonora, Mexico and bobcats in Tucson, AZ currently function as a single population, and the proposed impermeable border wall may therefore sever gene flow between the two regions.
Nadira feels intrinsically connected with nature, a bond that she accredits to her Navajo culture. Navajo teachings uphold that all life is equal and connected.
?I?ve always loved wildlife because growing up as a Navajo person?we have reverence for all living beings on the planet. We?re all on the same level.?
As a child, she was deeply fascinated by animals and collected snails, insects, and other small invertebrates every monsoon season. It?s no surprise that her hobbies as an amateur naturalist led to nearly a thousand hours of volunteer work at the Sonoran Desert Museum as a young teenager, where she learned how to build a career working with animals. Though less than a year into her studies, Nadira continues to be an active participant in the scientific community and has her sights set on graduate school. Nadira hopes to bring what she learns at University of Arizona back to the Navajo Nation, working in wildlife conservation and possibly acting as a liaison between Navajo and Arizona agencies. Not one to shy away from hard work, Nadira knows she?ll need at least a master?s degree to do this and is keeping her options open for a Ph.D. as well.
Slideshow Photo credit: ?Grey Skies? Nadira Mitchell