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Scaling the Motivation Mountain
Summer is here again and it’s a break from the classroom, but not a break from learning. For me, ambition finds this summer’s opportunity in a microbiology lab here on the Salish Kootenai College campus. Talk about fine tuning my range of skill sets—big organisms last summer and tiny, tiny nano gram calculations this summer, isolating DNA in wild and hatchery walleye fish. My research goals are all interconnected though. Even though I am working in a laboratory this summer, my focus on traditional foods is still present as walleye are part of the subsistence diet for Midwest tribes. Later in the summer, we will be looking at the arsenic and mercury levels in the fish because, as our literature review has concluded, the presence of heavy metals may exacerbate already prevalent diseases for Indian communities, such as type II diabetes. Other students in the lab will quantify this for us, taking rat and mouse muscle and fat cells and treating them with the aforementioned heavy metals to determine how their data further supports this hypothesis.
This summer is also no different in that there are many cultural activities that my family participates in, not to mention there’s the coming and going of extended family throughout the summer. It really gives me a chance to take the advice from all the science and natural resource professionals I have met this past year—that I should find a balance for my goals and my family priorities. Most of the other internships I’ve had focused on the environment and were hosted by a variety of agencies. This particular funding source is the National Institutes of Health and their Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) program. Essentially it’s more people focused. I’m enjoying it so far because the people are great! It’s also still community-based science working with other tribal colleges and tribal serving universities. We’re just two weeks into the internship and we have all come together to share the history of the projects we are working on, keeping the “why is this science important” at the forefront of the meeting. Normally with internships, gatherings happen at the end as a way to show off what you have done—really feeding egos. This internship is unique though; it’s like this scientific community is showing, not just telling, students that there is this mountain of research to do this summer, enabling us to make relationships with the professionals who might help carry us when we reach the switchbacks of the trail ahead.
Even though I am not in my school’s life sciences program, I have been welcomed with open arms. Let me tell you, after travelling to meeting after meeting where you hear that scientists of varying disciplines need to learn to work together and increase diversity for minorities and women, my motivation is renewed. I look forward to learning new skills and honing old ones—and I’m looking forward to all the powwows I plan to hit on the weekends!
Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College studying wildlife and fisheries.