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Community, Cultural, & Academic Mentoring

A unique element of the NARI program is the development of a robust cultural mentorship for NARI participants. Our program personnel thoughtfully pair each participant with a cultural mentor prior to their arrival in Utah. Participants meet their mentors during orientation at the welcome reception. These mentors come from campus and the local community. Most cultural mentors are involved in scientific disciplines. Based on prior feedback, participants and cultural mentors meet both informally and formally. Formal meetings are required three times during the internship with their research mentors to go over IDPs, research, career goals, and overall experience. The cultural mentors are invaluable for continued support of the student’s cultural identity in and out of the classroom and they serve as an important translator for participants as they immerse themselves in in the new culture of biomedical research. Cultural mentors are also intimately involved with the selection of participants for the program, evaluation of the program, and strategic program planning. The table below lists our outstanding AI/AN cultural mentor currently participating in the NARI program who have agreed to continue their participation in the NARI program.

Community, Cultural, & Academic Mentoring Professional 


General Work


Angie Makomenaw

(Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan)

Mental Health Education and Prevention Coordinator at Wesleyan University

Angie Makomenaw has Bachelors in Sociology with a minor in Ethnic Minorities Studies and a Masters in Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado.  Angie has dedicated over ten years working to end violence against women.  Prior to her employment for the University of Utah as the Violence Against Women Coordinator, Angie did extensive work in creating and developing comprehensive programming to end domestic violence for her tribe, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.   Her work was gifted the highest honor, an Eagle Feather, by the men in her community.  Before she worked in Michigan, Angie worked as a victim advocate for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office of Colorado handling felony level cases ranging from forgery to homicide. 

Anthony Shirley


University of Utah, Scholarship & Financial Resources Coordinator

Anthony is formally from Chinle, Arizona and is of the Many Goat Clan, born to the Tower House Clan. He earned his Bachelors of Science in American Indian Studies at the University of Wyoming.

Anthony is a fluent speaker of the Navajo Language and has been teaching the Navajo Language courses through the Language and Literature Department for the past 8 years. The Navajo curriculum includes: Navajo 1010, 1020, 2010 and 2020. Anthony also has the opportunity to teach Navajos in Modern Society and Navajo Traditions and Culture. Anthony remains active in the American Indian community of Salt Lake City and is a former board member of the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake City.


Anthony has been doing professional academic work for the past 10 years. He was the former American Indian Student Advisor in the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. Currently he is the pre-Nursing advisor for the College of Nursing. His primary job is advising pre-Nursing students, recruitment and undergraduate financial aid.

Beverley Patchell, PhD

Assistant Professor, University of Utah College of Nursing


Program Director , DNP Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program

Beverly Patchell is an Assistant Professor and Program Director of the DNP Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program.  She has an extensive background in CBPR, especially with Native American and tribal communities. Her community-based research has addressed substance abuse, mental health, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and interpersonal violence.

Ceceilia Tso


Doctor of Education - Leadership for Change - Indigenous Ontological Leadership

Navajo formally from Salt Lake City, Utah her family is from Lukachiukai, Arizona. She was formally at the University of Utah, College of Education with the Dean's Office as a Grants and Contracts Officer and she also works with the American Indian Teacher Education Collaboration, AITEC as the Director working with American Indians that want to become teachers. Ceceilia also works with the Strengthening Families Program the American Indian/First Nations Trainer of Trainers and Evaluator. She works with tribes in Canada and the USA to assist in obtaining funding and to deliver this model evidence based program to Indigenous communities. Ceceilia’s newest project is working with Tribes on an American Indian Leadership Program that trains them in "Being A Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership: An Ontological Model" - a way of being when being a leader.  Board Services: Utah Non-Profits Association, American Indian Resource Center Advisory Board, Indian Walk-In Center Indian, Advisory Committee Natural History Museum of Utah and American Indian Dialogue.

Colin Ben, PhD


Program Coordinator at Westminster College McNair Scholars Program

Colin was raised in Shiprock, NM located within the beautiful Navajo Nation.  He earned his BA degree in Southwest Studies with a concentration in Native American Studies from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Colin earned his MA degree in American Indian Studies with a concentration in higher education from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ.  He is a PhD student in the Educational Leadership and Policy program at the University of Utah. 


On a personal level, Colin likes to take photographs, travel, and play basketball and volleyball.  He enjoys traveling with his wife, Dr. Otakuye Conroy-Ben (Oglala Lakota) throughout Indian country. He has worked in the area of student support services for over eight years at various college/university campuses, with summer internship programs, and college/graduate school preparation programs. 

Crystal Cordova-Tulley, PhD


University of Utah, Department of Geology and Geophysics, SPATIAL Lab

Crystal grew up on the Navajo Nation; the vast area where she grew up afforded her the opportunity to be an explorer and scientist.  Her interest in science started in the fourth grade with a water filtration science project.  She has a Bachelor of Science in Earth and Planetary Sciences and Master of Water Resources with a concentration in Hydroscience from the University of New Mexico.   She currently is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah. Her research interests include learning more about the interactions of precipitation, surface and ground waters.  Her current research focuses on North American Monsoon precipitation and associated water resources in the Navajo Nation situated in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.  She is currently leading two water projects collaborating with Navajo Tribal Utility and Navajo Nation Water Management Branch’s Water Monitoring and Inventory Group.  Crystal has a passion for working with tribal communities.  She realizes the importance to help tribal nations dependent on water resources understand the effects of hydroclimatic changes on their tribal homelands. Crystal hopes the knowledge and experience gained will help her assist tribal communities to use their current knowledge about water to build sustainable water projects, seek research funding and examine past hydroclimate trends in hopes of understanding future water trends.  After completing her degree, she would like to become faculty member at a tribal or community college and/or a hydrologist with the Navajo Nation.


Cynthia Wilson, MS


Traditional Foods Program Director at Utah Dine Bikeyah

Cynthia Wilson is from the Navajo tribe, born and raised in Monument Valley, UT. Her clan is of the Folded Arms People Clan (Bit’ahnii) and born for the Towering House Clan (Kinyaa'ą́ąnii). She graduated from Southern Utah University with her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Nutrition and a minor in Early Childhood Development. Upon completion of her undergraduate career, she has been awarded the Outstanding Research Award by the Department of Nutrition & Agriculture at SUU.

She completed 2 summers as a research intern with the NARI program (2011-2012). The following summer (2013), she completed the Native CREST (Cancer Research Experience and Student Training) Program as an intern for the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Her research interests primarily involve nutrition science aimed at addressing intervention practices that are culturally appropriate around diabetes management among American Indians in geographical isolation.

Cynthia is a recent graduate from the Coordinated Masters of Science Program in Nutrition Education at the University of Utah, Division of Nutrition. She is currently the Traditional Foods Program Director for a native-led, non-profit organization that elevates traditional values in partnership with tribal nations; known as Utah Diné Bikéyah. Her career objective is to practice dietetics among tribal communities to educate nutrition knowledge inspired by tribal elders with ancestral ties to indigenous food ways that honors traditional wisdom and enhance quality of life. 


Dolores Calderon


Assistant Professor University of Utah

Dolores Calderon (Mexican/Tigua)  is an assistant professor in the Department of Education, Culture, and Society and the Ethnic Studies Program. She was born and raised in the Lower Valley of El Paso, Texas, where her family has been since the Pueblo Revolt of1680. Her research focuses on Indigenous education, Culturally Relevant/Multicultural education, Chicana(o)/Indigenous Student Success, and Anti-Colonial/Critical Race theories.  She is PI of, The Role of Home in Chicano/Indigenous Student Success, a research project that documents the educational trajectories of Chicana/o and Indigenous student graduates from highly selective ivies and sister ivies in order to map out what culturally relevant success looks like and make policy recommendations for interested stakeholders. 


Donna Eldridge, MPH


Program Manager, Office of Inclusion and Outreach, University of Utah

Donna is a member of the Navajo Nation where she grew up on the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico. In 2013, she received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Utah. Donna is interested in championing social justice issues and advocating for underrepresented populations. Donna is an Administrative Program Coordinator at the University of Utah, School of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Outreach. She works on educational outreach for K-12 students. Their 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.


Ed Napia


Program Manager, Sacred Paths Youth Services, Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake

Ed was born into the Te Honihoni, Te Popoto and Te Whiu Hapu (subtribes) of the Ngapuhi Iwi (tribe) from the Tai Tokerau District of Aoteroa-New Zealand. He was well-grounded in his Maori identity and language when as a teenager he moved to Hawaii. Later he moved to mainland United States and then to Utah to pursue an education.”  He is the Youth Programs and Special Projects Manager at the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake and works specifically in Health and Wellness, Substance Abuse Prevention, Emergency Preparedness, and Culture and Identity Formation. Ed has been with NARI since 2011 and served as a mentor for many NARI alumni. Ed is also a clay artist.

Elise Boxer

(Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota)

Coordinator, Native American Studies / Assistant Professor, University of South Dakota

Dr. Elise Boxer is a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine tribe from Poplar Montana.  Dr. Boxer is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Ethnic Studies.  She received her Doctorate from Arizona State University in December 2009 in History.  Her primary field is American Indian History and United States History.  She currently teaches courses in American Indian Studies. 


Dr. Boxer is active in various professional organizations, such as the Western History Association and Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.  She currently serves as an advisor for SNAGS (Society of Native American Graduate Students).  Her research examines the relationship between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Indigenous peoples.  More specifically, she explores Mormon colonialism and racial formations as manifested by Mormon whiteness and “Lamanite” identity.  Her work seeks to complicate the discourse of colonialism in the United States.

Franci Taylor, PhD


Director, American Indian Resource Center, University of Utah

Franci is the Director of the University of Utah’s American Indian Resource Center has over twenty-five years of experience in American Indian education that ranges from early childhood to advanced degrees.  She directed two award winning bridging programs for American Indian students and has developed effective, best practices, recruitment and retention programs at the high school and university levels. She came to the University of Utah from Washington State University (WSU) where she was the Native American Retention Specialist and Director for the American Indian Student Center.  While at WSU she served on the Campus Climate Council and was part of the Provost’s Council supervising the Memorandum of Understanding with 9 Northwest tribes and the University. she has served on various State and national level boards and committees on American Indian educational issues, including the University of Oklahoma’s advisory board on American Indian education for the national Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education, where she presented institutes on coalition building and American Indian history and contemporary issues in education.


She has lectured on American educational issues at the local, state, national and international levels and has taught at the university level in both the United States and Europe. She has participated as a member or the Indigenous People’s Permanent Forum for the United Nations. She continues to participate in the National Indian Education Association, American Indians in Science and Engineering Society, Association of native American and Alaskan Professors and the National Academic Advising Association.

Jill Jim, PhD


Executive Director Division of Health at Navajo Nation

Jill Jim is a PhD student in the Division of Public Health at the University of Utah. She received a Master of Public Health/Healthcare Administration from the University of Utah. She is currently working on her dissertation related to health care cost and utilization differences among American Indian and Alaska Natives and Non-Hispanic Whites.


Judith Simcox, PhD


Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin

I grew up in Huntley, MT, a small farming town of less than 500 people but attended high school in Billings, MT at Billing Central Catholic High School. I went on to complete a BA majoring in Biology from Carroll College in Helena, MT. While at Carroll I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Gerald Shields using black flies as a model of sympatric speciation. This work allowed me to present my work at an international conference, defend an undergraduate thesis, and publish a second author paper. After college, I worked at an environmental chemistry company called energy laboratories while I applied to graduate school. I completed my PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Utah in the Laboratory of Donald McClain PhD, MD, my thesis work assessed dietary impact on circadian metabolism. Through nine publications in my graduate career I was able to mechanistically explore the effects of dietary iron on leptin production, insulin signaling, and hepatic circadian rhythm. Currently I am a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Claudio Villanueva PhD researching questions pertaining to obesity and type 2 diabetes. My main projects in the laboratory have determined the role of circulating acylcarnitine species in cold response, and identified a novel regulator of adipocyte differentiation.  As a postdoctoral fellow I have also served as the Vice President for the University of Utah Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). My work with SACNAS has to work with underrepresented minority students to generate their interest in science through teaching at the YWCA ASCEND program, giving lectures to the Native American Heritage Club at Highland High School, volunteering at the Urban Indian Center with the Elders group, and serving as a mentor for science fairs. She was also invited to give lectures at the Brain Awareness Symposium in Jalapa and Ocotal Nicaragua, as well as at St. Edwards College in Austin, Tx.


I have a rich cultural heritage, on my mother’s side I am a first generation immigrant from the Philippines; on my father’s side I am a fourth generation homesteader and Native American. My great-grandmother Nellie Pickens of the Greasy Mouth Clan was part of the cultural genocide of the Apsaalooke Nation, she was sent to boarding school and by the time she came back she had lost her language and her sense of purpose. She married my great-grandfather and homesteaded in Huntley Montana close to her sister who lived on the reservation in Lodge Grass. When I was young my grandfather instilled in me the importance of education, even though it is what separated his mother from her family. He would often quote Chief Plenty Coups who said “Education is your most powerful weapon.” My mission is to always foster a community with all the tribes together for learning. For such a long time education was used as a way to assimilate. I want to change the narrative where we all appreciate our shared and unique stories to drive scientific inquiry. I would be best at helping NARI students learn how to network, give talks, apply to graduate school, and writing

Kale Dale, PhD Candidate

(White Earth Band of Ojibwe)

Oncological Sciences Ph.D. Candidate at University of Utah

Boozhoo! Kali indizinaakaz, mawka indodem, waaban ikwezens, Bemidji indojiibaa. My name is Kali Dale, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians of the Minnesota Chippewa. I grew up in Bemidji, Minnesota with my mother and father and two brothers. I graduated from Bemidji High School in 2010 and then studied Biochemistry at the University of Minnesota Morris. I was heavily involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and sustainability on campus. I helped implement the first Native American themed garden on campus, where we planted native prairie plants and the traditional three sisters. The food was harvested and used for a community meal that served over 300 people each year! After graduating from UMM in 2014, I started my next adventure in the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. There I was a member of the von Lintig lab, where I studied the transcription regulational role of vitamin A metabolism in the pancreas and intestines in mice.


I enrolled in the Biological Chemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Utah in 2015 and joined the lab of Dr. Martin McMahon. My thesis research is investigating the role of integrin 3 in MAP Kinase pathway activated cancer cells, including melanoma and lung cancer. I am active member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter.  When I’m not in the lab, I’m skiing during the winter season and going to concerts in the summer.

Kevin Bell

Student Family Advocate Title VI Indian Education, Educational Equity at Salt Lake City School District

Kevin received his B.A. in History from the University of Utah and his Master in Education from the University of Phoenix. He is also bilingual (Spanish). He has worked as a government records manager, sales manager, a high school teacher (of too many subjects to list), and currently free lances as a writer. His hobbies and interests include Family History, Native American history, U.S. History, musical composition, writing, guitar, and Native American flute. Kevin was born in Ohio and descends from the Yesan people (sometimes spelled Yesah or Yesang), more generally known by the Iroquois name Tutelo, a large group of Siouan people who formerly inhabited Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and the Ohio Valley. Historical research has shown that over time some of the Yesan made peace with and later joined the Cayuga, and others joined the Catawba, while many mingled with the White and Black families living along the Appalachian Mountain range, and still others disappeared into the mountains. Honoring his Siouan heritage, Kevin is working to assist in the revitalization of the Tutelo (Yésah/Yesanechi) language and to be a voice for the innumerable blood descendants from the many woodland Native American tribes that have been decimated by greed and ignored by history to ensure that his people will not be forgotten.

Kolenya Holly, MPH


Program Director at Utah Navajo Health System, Inc.

Yá'át'ééh shí éí Kolenya Holly yíníshyé'. Bit’ahnii (Folded Arm People) nishłį́, Lók’aa’ dine’é (reed People) báshíshchíín, Tł’izí lání (Many Goats Clan) dashicheii, Kinłichíí’nii (Redhouse Clan) dashinalí.


Kolenya Holly has worked at UNHS since 2016 formerly as the Clinic Manager of the Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain CHCs. She is currently the Program Director for the Healthy Transition – Iina Bihoo’aah Program (IBP) in the Behavioral Health Department in the Montezuma Creek CHC.


Kolenya graduated from Whitehorse High School in 2005, earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Utah University in Athletic Training and her Masters of Public Health from Westminster College. Prior to UNHS, she was on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake Urban Indian Center and worked at the University of Utah coordinating clinical studies for Primary Children’s Hospital and Huntsman Cancer Institute. Kolenya is excited for the change of course in her career to the field of Behavioral Health and grateful to be serving her community and youth/young adults.


UNHS was awarded a Federal SAMSHA Healthy Transitions Grant in August 2018 which helped develop the Healthy Transitions Iina Bihoo’aah Program (IBP). The purpose for IBP is to promote a healthy transition into adulthood and responsibilities by improving emotional and behavioral health within the youth and young adult population (16-25 years old) who have or is at-risk of a serious emotional disorder or serious mental health illness. IBP offers counseling therapy, supported education and employment, traditional healing practices and other resources.

Kyle Ethelbah, MS

(White Mountain Apache)

Experienced Higher Education Professional; Chair, Board of Directors, Council for Opportunity in Education

Mr. Kyle Ethelbah is currently the Director of Federal TRIO Programs at the University of Utah and the Founder and CEO of Positive Native LLC, an agency whose goal is to address health disparities and educational opportunity training needs within agencies and organizations that serve low income communities.  Mr. Ethelbah comes to the University of Utah most recently from the University of Arizona where he served as the Director of the Native American Student Affairs office.  However, he has extensive history with Federal TRIO Programs as he served as the Director for Adult Educational Services (an EOC Project) and Educational Talent Search with the Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) from 1999 until 2011.  He has served as President of the National Educational Opportunity Centers Association and has also served as a consultant for the Council for Opportunity in Education in Washington, DC. 


Kyle has received numerous awards for his commitment and dedication to students served by TRiO Programs and the Native American community in the southwest.  These honors include the Community Service Award of the Year from the Las Vegas Indian Center, the UNLV Professional Staff Member of the Year Award, Special Recognition from the Las Vegas City Council, and the Community Spirit Award from Las Vegas CBS Affiliate – Channel 8 News.  He has 23 years of personal and professional TRiO Experience and is an alumnus Upward Bound and Student Support Services, both programs he now oversees.


Kyle is a member of ‘Dischiidn’ (Bear) clan of the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Central, Eastern, Arizona.  He received a Bachelor’s degree (BA) in Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) – Health Promotion emphasis from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  He is currently completing credits toward a graduate Certificate in American Indian Health (CAIH) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.

LaShai Jake, MPH, MSW (student)


MPH, MSW student

LaShai Jake, a member of the Diné or Navajo Nation. She comes from Counselor, New Mexico but grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LaShai is currently in her second year of my Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work dual degree program at the University of Utah. She is a Research Assistant for Project ECHO at the College of Family and Preventive Medicine looking at environmental impacts on Utah’s children. LaShai is also a Research Assistant for the Social Research Institute at the College of Social Work working with program evaluations with Department of Child and Family Services. She plans to go to medical school but in the meantime, she is enjoying being part of research projects and continue to learn how to be a better provider for Indian Country.

Lillian Tom-Orme, PhD


Research Assistant Professor at University of Utah School of Medicine

Dr. Lillian Tom-Orme, a member of the Diné or Navajo Nation, was born and raised on the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico. Dine’ was her first language and she remains fluent in her native tongue today.  Dr. Tom-Orme is Research Assistant Professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine and has adjunct appointments in the Department of Pediatrics and the College of Nursing. Dr. Tom-Orme holds graduate degrees in transcultural nursing and public health from the University of Utah. In addition, she serves as Native American Research Liaison through the National Cancer Institute.


Dr Tom-Orme has been active in numerous local and national committees including the American Diabetes Association’s Awakening the Spirit Program (co-chair), the American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawai’ian Caucus of the American Public Health Association (chair), the National Alaska Native/American Indian Nurses Association (president & secretary), Advisory Member of the NIH Center for Health Disparity and Minority Health, Panel of Experts member to the Office on Women’s Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Native Research Network(Founder & twice co-chair), the Network for Cancer Control Research among American Indian and Alaska Native Populations, the national Indian Health Service Institutional Review Board, the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurses Associations, Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Tuberculosis, and as reviewer for the Journal of American Indian Education. Consistent with her beliefs in increasing the number of ethnic students involved in research and science, she serves as role model and mentor to many students throughout the country. Most recently, she served as External Advisory Board member to Montana State University’s Center for Native Health Partnerships and the Little Big Horn College Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions NIH grants. 


True to the spirit of the tribal participatory research, Dr. Tom-Orme’s public health research has been aimed at improving the overall living and health conditions of AIAN people through studies focused on cancer and diabetes.  In 2003-07, Dr. Tom-Orme and colleagues enrolled a national cohort of over 15,000 AIANs (in the Southwest, Northern Plains, and Alaska) to collect baseline data on health and chronic disease risk factors. In her NCI role, she works with tribal nations to improve their cancer data and to apply those data to improve cancer control. She is committed to increasing the number of AIAN health care professionals and researchers through her national work.


Lynn Hall, MSW

(Klamath Tribe)


She is and enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe and is a descendant of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.  She received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Health Sciences and her Master’s degree in Social Work. For the past 9 ½  years Lynne has assisted Phyllis Pettit Nassi, Manager of Native American Outreach, Special Populations in the implementation of outreach initiatives, to provide culturally sensitive cancer education, prevention and screening information to underserved populations.  She has experience in working with American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and has traveled extensively to many tribal reservations developing close working relationships with many of the tribal health representatives.    


Lynne has been a volunteer for the National Susan G. Komen for the CURE Annual Mission Conference, other volunteer in community services organizations include: numerous years of volunteer for the American Indian Services scholarship organization and serving six years as a Board Member for the Indian Walk-In Center, which is now called the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake.   Lynne is an associate member of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR). 


HCI’s Special Populations Program received recognition from the Department of Health and Human Services for its work in educating Native American communities about cancer prevention and detection.  Lynne is the recipient of Utah’s Unsung Hero Award “for being a steady and strong advocate for cancer prevention, for being active in the community and for steadfast support of other services benefiting Utah American Indians”. 

Matthew Makomenaw

(Odawa tribe)

Assistant Dean Director Native American Cultural Center

Matthew Makomenaw, a member of the Odawa tribe, from the Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and Little Traverse Bay of Odawa Indians, has extensive experience working with American Indian students in higher education. Matthew received his Ph.D in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education from Michigan State University. He was the Director of Native American Programs at Central Michigan University, an adjunct faculty member at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College and served on the board of regents for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College. Currently, Matthew is the Director of the American Indian Resource Center.

Nathaniel Todea, MS


Utah NRCS State Hydraulic Engineer at USDA NRCS

He holds a BA in Anthropology from Fort Lewis College & a MS Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of New Mexico. As the State Hydraulic Engineer with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for Utah, he works on watersheds, rivers, stream restoration, fire hydrology, & dams. His background includes a business in Geographic Information Technology and worked as an archaeologist for the Navajo Nation. He was awarded the 2008 AISES Most Promising Engineer Award. He is joined with his wife Courtney and their 13 year old and 8 year old daughters.


Orlando Antelope

(Northern Arapaho)

Laboratory Technician, Huntsman Cancer Institute

Orlando is from Salt Lake City, Utah where he attended the University of Utah and earned his B.S in biology with an emphasis in cell and molecular biology and a minor in chemistry. He is currently researching hematologic malignancies in the Deininger/O’Hare lab at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. His research is centered on the design and implementation of targeted cancer therapeutics for myeloproliferative neoplasms, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL).


His journey began as a NARI intern in 2013 where he developed his love for research in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry under the instruction of Dr. Kuberan Balagurunathan researching the role of heparan sulfate proteoglycans in cancer metastasis. His unique experiences have led him to specializing in drug development, where his approach to oncology focuses on molecular targets rather than disease types. Under the direction of Dr. Michael Deininger and Dr. Thomas O’Hare, he has committed himself to the design of therapeutic strategies for controlling both solid tumors and hematologic malignancies.


Otakuye Conroy-Ben, PhD

(Oglala Lakota)

Assistant Professor at Arizona State University

Dr. Otakuye Conroy-Ben (Oglala Lakota) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Build Environment at Arizona State University.  Dr. Conroy-Ben received a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Notre Dame, a M.A. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Arizona.  Her research focuses on the biological effects of polluted water.  Her research interests include environmental endocrine disruption, metal and antibiotic resistance in bacteria, and wastewater epidemiology.  She teaches the courses CEE 361 Introduction to Environmental Engineering, CEE 560 Soil & Groundwater Remediation, and CEE 564 Contaminant Fate and Transport.  Dr. Conroy-Ben is advisor to the ASU chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

Phyllis Nassi

(Otoe-Missouri Tribe and a member of the Cherokee Nation)

Associate Director, Research & Science, Special Populations Huntsman Cancer Institute

Phyllis is enrolled in the Otoe-Missouri Tribe, a member of the Cherokee Nation, Phyllis, is the Associate Director Research & Science Special Populations, American Indian Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah. Formerly a Ph. D. student at the University of Utah’s College of Social Work, her dedication is to health disparities, the medically underserved of rural and frontier populations, cancer research, research education, screening, early detection. She has studied cultural and social implications on underserved populations for more than 30 years. Raised on the Navajo, Hopi & Zuni reservation, experienced in scientific research, outreach, development and implementation of research projects, Phyllis is well aware of the need for cultural humility and awareness and works with research teams to understand “how complicated it's going to be to get it right, and how difficult it will be for every researcher working with Native American people if they get it wrong. She educates tribal populations about cancer, clinical trials and the future direction of cancer research, (e.g. genomics) to bring equity to the research table.


Phyllis has over 14 years of experience mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. Phyllis seeks to expose students to research professionals from various disciplines who provide supervised guidance and hands-on experience; familiarize students with research approaches, techniques, data interpretation and scientific problem solving and offer an opportunity for students to meet and interact with peers who have similar career goals. She has provided these opportunities through Continuing Umbrella Research Experience grant, becoming an Association American Cancer Researchers Scientist<>Survivors Program Advocate Mentor, being the Leadership Mentor on the Native American Research Internship Program grant and designing and implementing the Academic Student Mentoring: Changing What's Behind the Door Workshop.


Presently Phyllis serves as a Patient Advocate for the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (Alliance), serving on the Health Disparities, Pharmacogenomics and Respiratory Committees; the Multicultural Advisory Committee and is an Advocate in Science for Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Komen); is Co-Chair of the Southwest Region of the Intercultural Cancer Council (ICC) Network; and is on the Advisory Board of the Cancer Information and Support Network (CISN).


Raquel Vagas-Whale, MD, MS, MSc, FAAP



Dr. Vargas-Whale is the Medical Director and Attending Physician for the CARE (Child Abuse Resource & Evaluation) Team at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, TX. Dr. Vargas-Whale graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch medical school in 2005, and completed her pediatric residency in 2008 at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. After graduation, Dr. Vargas-Whale served as an Indian Health Services Scholar and staff pediatrician for the Choctaw Nation Health Service Authority in Oklahoma. Her practice emphasis was in the area of behavioral health and child development. In 2012, Dr. Vargas-Whale entered into fellowship training in Child Abuse Pediatrics at The University of Utah and Obtained a Masters degree in Clinical Science Investigation, graduating in July 2015. Dr. Vargas-Whale is Board Certified in both General Pediatrics and Child Abuse Pediatrics.

Sam Hawkins, MD

(Muscogee Creek)

Emergency Medicine Resident at Penn State University

Sam Hawkins is from the Muscogree Creek tribe, Sam graduated with his Bachelor’s of Sciences degree in Biomedical Engineering from the Utah State University. Sam is currently a third year medical student here at the University of Utah. Sam has been a huge part of the success of the Native American Summer Research Internship program where he serves as the Administrative Program Coordinator from 2013-2015. Sam has continues to serve as a mentor for many American Indian students.


Shaela Avery


Owner and Designer at Navajo Boutique, Assistant Director at Liahona Children's Foundation, Editor at CS Intelligence

Yá’át’ééh. Shi eí Shaela Avery yinishyé. (Hello, my name is Shaela Avery.) I am half Navajo, and I am from the Window Rock area in northeastern Arizona. I grew up on the Navajo Reservation and graduated from St. Michaels Indian School in 2002. I pursued my undergraduate education at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. While at BYU I was extensively involved in the multicultural community, and I had many opportunities to serve the Native American community through volunteering and leadership.  I also participated in research and completed an honors thesis in a study on premature osteoarthritis. I graduated with honors and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physiology and Developmental Biology in April of 2009. I am currently a medical student at the University of Utah School of Medicine and am a proud mother of two beautiful daughters. When I complete my medical education I plan on returning to the reservation to serve my people as a doctor.

Sharon Austin, PhD


Director at Water’s Edge Consulting

Dr. Austin received her PhD from the University of Utah. She has a master of public health degree from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in medical anthropology from Stanford University. Her formative years were spent on the Navajo reservation, and these early years were the catalyst for developing a strong desire of working with American Indians and other underserved populations. Sharon joined the Center for HOPE at Huntsman Cancer Institute in the fall of 2018. She loves to travel, hike, cook, and spend as much quality time as she can with her dog and husband.


Spencer Castro, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Utah

I first learned about the interplay of technology and driving in my undergraduate career at Stanford University. While taking classes and performing studies with the late Clifford Nass, I learned that people can be polite to computers, attribute gender stereotypes to them, and acutely differentiate synthetic voices[3]. I received the opportunity to interact with an immersive driving simulator—which consisted of the front half of a Ford Mustang—in the Center for Automotive Research. This experience opened my eyes to the possibilities of applying basic psychological research to businesses, technology and policies.

At UC Santa Cruz I applied this concept to how devices split our attention, and received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for my proposal, in addition to my master’s degree for the subsequent paper. I attended classes and workshops that covered statistical analyses and analytical tools, including: regular expressions in Python and R, Principal Component Analysis in R and MATLAB, and posting studies to Amazon Mechanical Turk with Adobe Flash. Due to this training I have been able to help design and implement in-vehicle studies of driver distractions and continue my studies of advanced statistical techniques at the University of Utah.

However, these opportunities were the culmination of years of community and familial support. Uniquely, this community support included financial help from the Mariposa Indian Council and the Yosemite National Park Service. I am a descendant of the original people of Yosemite Valley, who were subject to a statewide, government supported eradication effort from 1846 to 1873[2]. Today there are about 800 people with Southern Sierra Miwok ancestry in the Sierra Nevada foothills (p.c., Anthony Brochini, tribal council chair)[1]. My family and I have been involved with reconstructing the site of our Native village in Yosemite Valley, restoring traditional homes upon the sites of our relatives, and planning out the future use of the village for cultural restoration and preservation.

Sweeney Windchief

(Fort Peck Assiniboine)

Assistant Professor - Adult and Higher Education at Montana State University

Sweeney Windchief earned his Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy with an emphasis on Higher Education Administration in 2011 and serves as the assistant dean for diversity in the Graduate School at the University of Utah. He received his M.A. degree from The University of Montana in the field of Educational Counseling, where he also served as a Minority Admissions Counselor and taught parenting classes on the Flathead Indian Reservation. 


His scholarship and research interests are centered in Critical Race Theory, Indigenous Epistemologies, and Indigenous Peoples and Higher Education He has co-published in the Howard Journal of Communication with Patricia Covarrubias, Ph.D on American Indian silence in college as a way of promoting and protecting cultural integrity. He was an American’s for Indian Opportunity Ambassador 2006-2008 engaging in issues relevant to the indigenous peoples in New Mexico, Hawaii, Washington DC, and in internationally in Bolivia.