Science SPYS

Dr. Julie Randolph-Habecker from PNWU talks Trino Savala and Kanani Heemsah, both students at Yakama Nation Tribal School, through the extraction of DNA from strawberries.

White Swan High School eleventh grader Joselin Villanueva wants to be an obstetrician. Her friend and classmate Christina Vasquez wants to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Both girls are bright, articulate and passionate about their education and career goal. Still, the deck is stacked against them. Statistically, they are among the population that is most at risk for low academic attainment. They come from one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the state of Washington, are persons of color, and neither girls’ parents have a college degree. However, behind these young women is a team of educators determined to give them every opportunity to break away from statistics to find their own personal success.

Villanueva and Vasquez were two of ten students who participated in the Heritage University and Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences’s (PNWU) joint Summer Program for Yakama Students (SPYS) research experience. The youth spent 40 hours a week for five weeks immersed in science and culture at the two universities.

Dr. Mirna Ramos-Diaz (left) and Heritage student mentor Mireya Cruz (right) look on as Yakama Nation Tribal School student Isela Cuevas works with the microscope in the university’s lab.

Their experience started at Heritage where they were introduced to biology and chemistry. They spent time in the laboratory examining single-celled organisms through the microscope and learning how to use pipets. After a week at Heritage, they spent the next two weeks at PNWU learning about the scientific method and how to design, execute and present an experiment. They studied cells and mitosis, isolated salmon DNA, and were introduced to viral and bacterial illnesses. During their second week at the medical school, they delved into the human brain and central nervous system. They dissected sheep brains and cows eyes to get a better understanding of the nervous system and reviewed case studies on Alzheimer’s disease and autism. Peppered into their studies were lectures and conversations from Native American medical and environmental scientists from throughout the nation who shared with them a bit about their journeys. That, said Villanueva and Vasquez, was one of the most powerful parts of the experience.

“Hearing from the speakers gave us inspiration,” said Villanueva. “It made me feel like even though we come from a small school, there are lots of options and we have choices. If they could do it, we can too.”

Western science immersion was only part of the story. Native American and Latino values and tradition, such as seasonality, sacrifice and trust, were woven into lessons throughout the experience.

“There was an interconnectivity of everything that the students were working on and experiencing,” said Dr. Mirna Ramos-Diaz, assistant professor of family medicine at PNWU and co-coordinator of the program. “For example, when they were talking about the life cycle of the organisms they were studying, they would discuss the seasons of the things that

are around them and part of their lives, such as the seasons for gathering roots or hunting elk.”

Students’ SPYS experience was capped off with the presentation of their research and journals. Pictured here is Jayenell Lee, a student at White Swan High School.

Students would reflect daily on their lessons and how those relate to their own culture. Tribal elders were present at each session to share their stories with the students. During their final week of labs, they worked with Ciarra Greene, a Nez Perce tribal member who is an expert in traditional ecological knowledge.

“As a Native educator, the value of integrating traditional knowledge as a basis for redirecting how we teach our youth throughout the SPYS program held and holds great merit for educational attainment,” said Maxine Janis, Heritage University associate professor, president’s liaison for Native American affairs, and co-coordinator of SPYS.

The summer science experience was part of a larger, on-going partnership between Heritage and PNWU to build the pipeline of Native American and Hispanic students studying the health sciences and moving into medical careers. Currently, only 6% of all medical school students in the United States are Latino(a). That percentage drops to a mere 0.3% for Native Americans students. This lack of representation negatively impacts health care, said Ramos-Diaz, especially in rural communities like the Yakima Valley where there are higher numbers of Native and Hispanic people.

“We know that having diversity in the medical field is crucial to providing good, quality health care,” said Ramos-Diaz. “Patients who receive care from someone who looks like them, understands their culture, values and traditions, are more likely to trust and feel comfortable with their health care provider and to follow through with their doctor’s instructions.”

The two universities started working together two years ago through an after-school program called Roots to Wings, which was founded by PNWU in 2013. Like SPYS, participating students are exposed to college and the health sciences through mentorship and hands-on learning. Roots to Wings is open to kids from the sixth through 12 grade who go to school in the Harrah or Mt. Adams School Districts or the Yakama Nation Tribal School. Up until this year, Roots to Wings students between the ages of 16 and 18 were able to travel to Washington D.C. to participate in a 10-week, paid Native American Summer Research Internship at the National Institute of Health (NIH). However, when the NIH changed their policy to participants had to be 18 or over unless they were accompanied by a parent or guardian for the duration of the experience, several Roots to Wings students who had been accepted were unable to go.

Heritage Assistant Professor in Biology Dr. Bob Kao led students through an introduction to the tools of the lab during their first week of SPYS.

That’s when the idea for SPYS came to be. Ramos- Diaz, Janis, and local Native American physician Dr. Naomi Lee had been talking for some time about ways to partner on outreach for Native youth in the lower Yakima Valley. When word came down that the Roots to Wings kids who were underage  wouldn’t be able to travel to DC, the women started talking about what they could do to mirror the summer program locally. Lee had already designed a chemistry curriculum in anticipation of the partnership, which Ramos-Diaz used as a platform to build the SPYS curriculum. Funding the program was the next hurdle. Ramos-Diaz reached out to Dr. Rita Devine at NIH to see if funding could be made available to support the summer experience. The summer camp was a brand new concept for the NIH. They were intrigued and agreed to fund the experience. In a matter of a few weeks, SPYS was born.

“We wanted to create the same experience here in Yakima County that they would have gotten in DC, plus a little bit more,” said Janis. “We designed a curriculum that would challenge them with the science and help them build those soft skills, likewriting and working in teams, which will serve them throughout their academic careers. We also wanted to help them build their work ethic, so at the end of the experience, we paid them. In essence, this was their summer job.”

“We had all this great hands-on experience which was really cool,” said Vasquez. “And, we were getting paid to learn the things that we will be doing in the future.”

Looking back, said Ramos-Diaz, the policy change at NIH was a bit of a blessing in disguise. “Not every student is ready for the rigors of the NIH internship, the academic rigors as well as the stress of being so far away from home, separated from their families for so long,” she said. “Through SPYS they are able to strengthen their academic skills even further.”

Yakama Nation Tribal School students Eric Pebeashy, Trino Savala and Isela Cuevas record images and data of the organisms they are viewing through the microscopes.

And that, said Janis, is what it is all about, helping kids become stronger academics, to expose them to a world without limits, and to help them build the resiliency that will take them from high school to Heritage to PNWU and into the community where they will impact the health and well-being for us all.

RADLab – Digital Storytelling of Rural America

Rural America. It’s not just country music and acres upon acres of farmlands. It’s a complex stewpot of people from different cultures and ethnicities. It’s multi-million dollar agribusinesses that communities depend upon for their economic prosperity. And, sadly, it’s communities that struggle to deal with the same social ills that impact larger cities–poverty, crime, violence, substance abuse–but often without the resources necessary to make a difference.

A joint project between Heritage University, Whitman College and Seattle-based PopUPJustice gave students a voice to tell the story of rural America through their eyes. Called Rural American Digital Lab (RADlab) students became filmmakers, producing short documentaries on topics of social justice that impact their communities.

RADLab invited 11 students from Heritage along with 11 students from neighboring Whitman College in Walla Walla, to come together to learn, in person and across campuses, how to leverage digital technology to shine a light on the fabric of
life in rural America. The goal said Aurora Martin, the founder of PopUPJustice, was not just to introduce students to the conferencing from the Whitman power of digital technology and storytelling to affect societal change, but also to build bridges and community across two very diverse student bodies.

For Heritage students, RADLab was an opportunity for many to tell their own stories because they or their family members were the subjects in videos that dealt with compelling topics including domestic violence, gender issues, homelessness and immigration status.

(Pictured left to right) Heritage students Cecilia Vizcaino, Noemi Sanchez, Madeline Alviso Ramirez and Maria Soto present their project at Whitman College.

The structure of RADLab was intense–19 days packed with training on advanced digital equipment and audio and video editing software. Every morning, Heritage students, whether in person or through video conferencing from the Whitman campus, heard lectures from subject matter experts about rural issues, ethics in storytelling, podcasting and video log best practices, and more. Every afternoon, the students were let loose to brainstorm, conduct interviews with their subjects or shoot supplemental footage, and edit their project.

Maria Soto, a third-year Heritage student who is double majoring in social work and history, said the quality of the speakers exceeded most students’ expectations. “We did not know there would be such a strong team from all over Washington,” she explained. “We heard from a YouTuber, a Ph.D., and filmmakers who taught us technical skills, like ways to shoot from the back to protect identity. And the importance of moral responsibility and content in storytelling because this is someone’s life.”

FILMS EXPLORE IDENTITY, CHALLENGES IN RURAL AMERICA

The students were broken into groups, and Soto’s group created a project based on the poem, I am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzalez. It explores the complexity of Mexican-American identity. Her group filmed the stories of four individuals, and two group members were featured in those stories, which dealt with the challenges of gender identity, undocumented students, farm workers, and a cholo who is giving back to the community.

 

 

“I was born in Mexico but have spent the majority of my life here,” explained Soto, noting that she, too, has struggled with issues of Mexican and American identity. “I learned it’s okay to be both. And that we are all part of the same ethnic group, but we can be all of these different things, too.”

Noemi Sanchez is a junior history major who participated in RADLab and also appeared in the video, sharing her experiences as a queer and non- binary student in a conservative rural area.

“For me, one of the skills I further developed was navigating conversations about social justice with people who are not affected by it,” noted Sanchez, who said sharing her story was scary but also liberating. “I didn’t have much experience filming or adjusting audio, but these skills have also helped me produce flyers and short videos for other student organizations and community groups I’m part of.”

Noemi Sanchez and visual arts major Anthony Tzib start their initial research for their RADLab project.

This is exactly the vision that Kimberly Bellamy-Thompson, chair of the Social Sciences Department, had for RADLab, which took almost a year of planning and conference calls to put into motion. “Journalists haven’t been paying attention to rural America, and I’m concerned about the repercussions of not having a voice,” said Bellamy-Thompson. “Here we are just two hours from Seattle by car and from San Francisco by plane, and yet, we have such disparity in digital technology in rural America.”

Thompson said RADLab allowed these students to bring attention to their stories while also gaining job skills and showcasing what they could do when given the resources in a hands-on, experiential learning setting.

Martin, whose organization helps to consult and incubate innovation and social connections, saw RADLab’s mission to be two-fold. “At the end of the day, RADLab was a community-building experiment that sought to plant seeds of innovation starting with the stories of why.” Explaining further, Martin said that because they worked with a shoestring budget that required innovative thinking just to launch the program, they were forced to strip away many extraneous factors and focus on those who could best inform solutions – end users who actually live the problem and who benefit from solutions.

“For me, this was a story of grit and grace,” said Martin. “The ideas are there; they just need the resources.”

Bridging the diverse cultures between the Heritage University and Whitman College students was a key element of RADLab.

Blake Slonecker, chair of Humanities at Heritage and a member of the RADLab design team, said one of his goals for his students in any learning experience is that they leave asking different questions than when they started. For one Whitman student, that meant overcoming a fear of the homeless and being willing to see them as a people with a story of their own. For Heritage students, it was transforming the way they saw the power of digital technology to produce words and images that told a story in ways that can impact hearts and minds for change.

“During the very last few days, we got together with the Whitman students, and we watched all of the videos,” said Sanchez. “And even from the people in my small group, I learned so much I didn’t know.”

Called to Serve

Colleen Sheahan in the math class at West Chestnut Academy school in Yakima, Wash.

As Colleen Sheahan moves through the math classroom at West Chestnut Academy (WCA), students bent over their geometry work call out to her. “PC, PC,” they say. “Come look at this.” PC, short for Pastor Colleen, is their affectionate nickname for the founder and head of this private Christian school that serves children from preschool through 12th grade. Sheahan stops, looks over the geometric shapes being formed by Popsicle sticks, gives a few words of encouragement before moving on. She knows each of these kids by name, their families, and their stories behind what brought them to WCA.

By her own admission, Sheahan wasn’t looking to become a teacher, let alone start and run a school when she enrolled in a pilot bachelor’s degree program offered in partnership between Heritage, Central Washington University, and what was then Yakima Valley Community College. It was simply the most convenient way for her to earn a degree—any degree— without leaving home. She was a licensed pastor ministering to children through Westpark United Methodist Church in Yakima, and she figured it could help her in her work there.

Two years of classes and long nights studying, Sheahan graduated, still without any intention of teaching. She went back to her life ministering to children. Then, a year later, something happened. Sheahan went to sleep.

 

“I had the most intense dream that I had started a new school. When I woke up, it stuck with me. Then things around me kept pointing me back towards the idea of this school, that we had to do this,” she said.

That was in the spring. Six months later, the non-profit West Chestnut Academy was born. It opened in 2001 with just 12 students and was housed within the Methodist church. The next year, enrollment grew to 60. Ever since then, it has averaged 80 students annually. Last year the school moved from the church into a larger facility left vacant when St. Paul’s Cathedral School moved from the location they had been housed in since 1914.

“There is a significant need for schools like ours in our community. Smaller schools that
can provide individualized attention to students, that celebrates and meets the needs of the whole child,” she said.

In many ways, the mission and vision of West Chestnut Academy mirror that of Heritage University. It is open to all with the desire to learn and embraces diversity—be that ethnic, socioeconomic, or in learning styles. Tuition is kept as low as possible so that children from all income levels can attend.

“We’ve had single mothers come in and pay their child’s tuition with their tip money,” said Sheahan. “We keep things very bare bones.”

But, she points out, bare bones does not mean lower quality. The school is licensed by the State of Washington. Students participate in art, music, and physical education along with the staples of math, English and science. They flourish in the smaller classes—particularly those who struggled in public schools where they are one in a crowd of hundreds.

“We have kids that come to us in the third or fourth grade who cannot read,” Sheahan said. “Within a year their parents are coming back to us saying ‘I can’t believe my child is reading!’ It is a real accomplishment for the child.”

This June, the academy will send its 59th graduate out into the world. Alumni of this school have gone on to colleges and universities, trade schools and into the workforce. Sheahan beams like any proud parent when talking about her grads.

“It’s a lot of work to care about kids. Here we provide a sanctuary for children where they can feel comfortable and are able to learn,” she said.

“Seeing them be successful as adults when they struggled so much as a child, this is what it is all about.”

Colleen Sheahan’s commitment to children and her focus on providing quality preschool through 12th grade education to students in the Yakima Valley led to her nomination and awarding of the Violet Lumley Rau Outstanding Alumnus(a) Award at Heritage’s 36th annual Heritage University commencement held May 5, 2018 at the SunDome in Yakima, Wash. (GORDON KING/Gordon King Photography)

 

Bountiful Generosity

Money is raised for Heritage University student scholarships at the school’s 32nd annual scholarship dinner held June 2, 2018 in Toppenish, Wash. (GORDON KING/Gordon King Photography)

The Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner, the premier annual event in the Yakima Valley dedicated to raising scholarship funds for Heritage University students, brought in $678,250 in early June.

 

This year marked the 32nd anniversary of the event that celebrates the many talented men and women who are transforming their lives and our communities through higher education.

 

Heritage University students served as hosts for the 250 guests in attendance, welcoming them as they arrived on campus, sharing their Heritage experiences, and expressing their gratitude for their ongoing investment in the university. Heritage mathematics major Brandon Berk, who served as the student speaker during the event, represented the many students like him who excel because of the scholarships they receive.

 

“I had thought of going to college but didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to attend because of money,” he told the audience.

 

“I was very close to joining the military, but then I received the Act Six scholarship, which has led to numerous opportunities including being published in a peer-reviewed journal as an undergraduate; receiving internships at prestigious universities, including the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago; and working with mentors who are guiding me toward my goal of earning a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Without Heritage and the Act Six scholarship, attending college would have been almost impossible.”

 

Virginia Hislop, an organizer of the very first Bounty of the Valley event 32 years ago and who has attended every year since, was overjoyed by the turnout and generosity of longtime donors, new supporters and guests.

 

“The scholarship monies raised at this event level the playing field for our students who are every bit as capable and talented as any student in the country, but who often do not have the same financial resources,“ she said. “By giving to our scholarship fund, our donors are investing in their community because our students go on to become the doctors, nurses, teachers and business leaders who will work here, in the Yakima Valley.”

 

Since its inception, more than $5.7 million has been raised at the event, with every dollar going directly to student scholarships.

 

Senior Director of Donor Development and organizer of the Bounty of the Valley, Dana Eliason, said it’s an amazing experience to watch the donor community and students get together at this event year after year. “Our donors often experience a strong emotional response when they meet the students and hear their stories of accomplishments made possible by their generosity. It’s magical!”

Congratulations Class of 2018

Heritage University Alumni Connections

Taking Flight

Taking FlightAfter years of sacrifice, of late night study sessions and countless hours spent in the library and computer labs, Heritage graduates celebrated earning their degree at the 2018 Commencement in May.

All totaled, 325 men and women earned their undergradaute and graduate degrees at Heritage this academic year.

In addition to Alvord’s address, two graduating students gave their remarks. Jesica Alvarez (B.A.,Chemistry) presented the baccalaureate student address and Alfredia Thompson, (M.I.T., Elementary Education) made the master’s degree student address.

Taking FlightThe Violet Lumley Rau Outstanding Alumni Award was given to Colleen Sheahan for her work establishing and running a private Christian school in Yakima. Fifteen graduates received the Board of Directors Academic Excellence Award, which is given to undergraduates who completed their degree with a perfect 4.0-grade point average. This year’s recipients were: Aryell Adams,Social Work; Kayli Berk, English/Language Arts; Aimee Bloom, Education; Meagan Gullum, Social Work; Tifanny Macias, Education; Daniela Medina, Education; Itzamary Montalvo, Education; Debra Olson, Education; Alexandra Orozco, Social Work; Perla Perez, Social Work; Karima Ramadan, Early Childhood Studies; Filipp Shelestovxskiy,  Education; Jessie Shinn, Accounting; Ana Tapia, Social Work; and Ashley Zahn, Education. The President’s Student Award of Distinction, which is given to an undergraduate with a distinguished record of academic excellence and service to the university, was given to Aleesa Bryant, Biomedical Science.

Taking FlightTaking FlightTaking FlightTaking Flight

A Campus Celebrates

Heritage University Inaugurates its Third President

Inauguration CelebrationA whirlwind of events in March brought together a campus and a community to celebrate the
inauguration of Heritage University’s third president, Dr. Andrew Sund.

Over the course of three days, the university hosted several events, each designed to celebrate different aspects of the university, its mission, and the people from the campus community and beyond.

“Inaugurations are as much a celebration of the universities and the communities that they serve, as they are of the incoming president,” said David Wise, vice president for marketing and advancement.Inauguration Celebration

The university opened its festivities with the President’s Inauguration Prelude, an event that honored its relationship with the Yakama Nation and the founding of the university by two Yakama women, Violet Lumley Rau and Martha Yallup, along with Sister Kathleen Ross. During the Prelude, the university dedicated the permanent installation of the Heritage teepee. The  teepee now serves as a learning center and is a significant part of the university campus.

Later that evening, the university moved its celebration to the Columbia Basin College (CBC) campus for a reception with faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the university. The event was an opportunity for those who are tied to the regional site to meet Dr. Sund and hear about his vision for the university and its partnership with CBC.

On its second day of the celebration, Heritage hosted educators from around the Yakima Valley at a luncheon with the president. The event brought together school counselors, principals, superintendents, as well as faculty from the university’s College of Education.

Inauguration CelebrationIn the evening, Heritage hosted the President’s Inauguration Jubilee at the Yakima Seasons Performance Hall. It was an arts and cultural event that celebrated the richness of the Yakima Valley and the people who call this area home. This multicultural repertoire of music, poetry,
and dance featured some of the Yakima Valley’s most talented artists. A mariachi band welcomed guests as they arrived and a pre-show reception featured a gallery filled with works by local artists and Heritage students.  Performances that night included a classical violin solo by Denise Dillenbeck, smooth jazz by the Yakima Valley College Jazz Ensemble, readings by poet Dan Peters, choral works by Inauguration Celebrationthe Yakima Symphony Chorus, traditional Native American dancing by The Four Seasons Travelers, pop and rock music by the Latino band Avión, and contemporary indie music by Naomi Wachira.

“The Jubilee was especially meaningful,” said Wise.  “The Yakima Valley is a vibrant tapestry of rich cultures, which was demonstrated through the performances at the Seasons. It was a beautiful night.”

Inauguration CelebrationThe celebrations capped off with the formal installation during a ceremony steeped in academic tradition. The event began with the grand procession of regalia-clad faculty, visiting dignitaries from other colleges and universities, members of the platform party, student representatives, and the Yakama Warriors color guard marching across campus from the Kathleen Ross snjm Center to Smith Family Hall in the Arts and Sciences Center. They marched down the aisle to a recording of the “Heritage University Tribute Anthem,” composed for the university by Joan McCusker, IHM and performed by the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Davis Washines, chair of the Yakama General Council and Dr. Kathleen Ross, snjm each presented an invocation and Dr. Keith Watson, president of Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, and Norm Johnson, WashingtonState Representative, 14th District (R) presented greetings. Inauguration CelebrationBefore representatives from the Student Government Association, Faculty Senate, Staff Educators Senate, and university alumni make their remarks, students from the Wapato High School Choir “En Vox” performed an interlude of choral music. They later sang the university’s alma mater Lift High the Banner! , written by Dr. Curtis L. Guaglianone and arranged by Aaron L. Jameson. David Cordova, friend and former colleague of Dr. Sund, made the introduction before Heritage Board of Directors Chair Pat Oshie presented Dr. Sund with the chain of office during the  Ceremony of Investiture.

During his presidential address, Dr. Sund shared his appreciation of the deep roots that the university has with the Yakama Nation and the importance of that relationship. He spoke of the importance of building academics that prepare students to meet the needs of the businesses in
the Yakima Valley.

“We can become even more of an institution that responds to the needs in the Valley for an educated population that serves the growth and benefit of this wonderful region, but also serves the aspirations of our students,” he said. “In doing that we will be successful.”

Dr. Sund joined Heritage University in July 2017. He succeeded Dr. John Bassett, who retired after serving as president for seven years.  President Sund came to Heritage University from St. Augustine College in Chicago, where he served as president from 2008 to 2017. Before St. Augustine, Dr. Sund was Dean of Workforce and Community Education at Olive Harvey College, one of the city colleges of Chicago, from 2004 to 2008.

Going Greek

Fraternity and Sororities Set the Bar High in Academics and Service Over spring break, with classes on hiatus, a group of young men hunched over 30,000 plastic eggs, filling each with candy. Later they would scatter them around campus to the delight of hundreds of children who came for the third annual Easter Egg Extravaganza.  Sponsored by the Omega Delta Phi […]

Welcome to the Jungle

In a balmy rainforest in Costa Rica, frequented by big cats, poisonous snakes, screeching monkeys and exotic fauna, four students from Heritage hiked along dirt paths, collected water and plant samples, set up wildlife tracking cameras, and had the experience of a lifetime  over  winter break. The reason they traveled so far on their time off from school was to conduct environmental and biological field studies at the Las Cruces Biological Research Center, about three miles from the Panamanian border.  Founded in 1962 as a botanical center and nursery, it is the home of the Wilson Center, the country’s best-known botanical garden. In 1973, it expanded its emphasis to include tropical research, particularly in conservation.

Welcome to the JungleSteve Dupuis, the IMSI director at Salish Kootenai College in Pueblo, Montana, reached out to Dr. Jessica Black about the trip, which he had done the year before. It was structured to bring tribal students in the sciences together from  colleges across the country. Heritage University’s  participation was made possible by a partnership with the All  Nations Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, in conjunction with the Organization for Tropical Studies.

“Research shows that when students are given the chance to travel internationally for study abroad experiences, it has a profound impact on their academic performance, empowering students as they work towards completion of their degrees and ultimately leading to higher GPAs,” said Black. “It’s something we were really lucky to do, and my hope is that it will become an annual event for our Native American STEM majors.”

Welcome to the JungleKimberly Stewart and Zane Ketchen were two of the students invited to travel to the Central American country.  When Stewart received the text from Black, she was immediately intrigued – not just about the chance to dig into field work in such a rich environmental location but also because she would meet and work with other Native  American students from around the country.  “I had traveled, but never to Central America,” said Stewart, a junior who is interested in working with the Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources when she graduates. After an 11-hour flight to San Jose, the team hopped aboard a bus for the six-hour journey into the Talamanca Mountains the next day. Taking the coastal route, Ketchen had his first look at Costa Rican wildlife, including crocodiles, macaws, and Black’s favorite, the toucan!

Welcome to the JungleFIELD WORK GIVES STUDENTS HANDS-ON RESEARCH SKILLS

The students faced a much different culture and climate in Costa Rica. The weather was more humid than at home. the hikes were challenging, long and windy, up steep and muddy paths. And, the wildlife! Ketchen recalls stumbling across snakes on several occasions, and one was the fer-de-lance – a deadly pit viper!

The research projects pushed all the students out of their comfort zone, in a good way. There were 14 participants from all the colleges involved, and they met as a group to brainstorm about potential projects. From there they whittled down a whiteboard of ideas to a few, and students could self-select the one they were most interested in: invasive species, water quality  or botany. They spent most days in the field and then summarized their  findings in a poster and presentation at the program’s conclusion.

Stewart and Corbin Schuster, who graduated this year with a B.S. in Biomedical Science, chose an invasive species project. Their team measured the severity of a plant fungus to determine if humidity levels contributed to its spread. They took samples from different elevations and used software to calculate the area of each leaf that was compromised. Stewart is excited to continue  with research in the next phase of her education. “I’ve been nervous about going to grad school,”  she admitted. “Now I feel certain I can do it.”

Ketchen and Robyn Raya’s field project centered on hydrology, the study of water movement, which is one of Ketchen’s career interests.

“On another field trip with Dr. Black, a hydrology expert told us if you fix the water, you’ll fix everything else,” said Ketchen. That resonated with him. At the center, his team tested water samples and took temperatures at different locations, learning that the tributary waters were warmer than the water in the main river. That was a surprising discovery because it’s typically the opposite in the Yakima Valley.

Welcome to the JungleMAKING CULTURAL CONNECTIONS WITH LOCAL TRIBE

This trip was about more than science, however. It was also about connections with other Native Americans across the country and globally. The teams took a day off from their research to meet members of a Panamanian indigenous tribe called the Boruca. The tribal elders shared about family life, traditions, and gave a demonstration in purse making, in which they grow and weave the cotton and use leaves to create different dye colors. Students also painted traditional  masks, used to warn potential conquerors away, and they participated in their tribal dances.

“We learned that the tribal members in Costa Rica are experiencing many of the same issues as the Native American tribes,” said Black, who pointed to their concerns about water usage and land sovereignty.

“It was cool to see how much respect they have for the land,” said Stewart. “And how self-sufficient they are.”

Ketchen particularly valued the time spent networking with other Native American students, mentors and even visitors to the center.

“Well, I really liked the whole trip, but meeting other people was what I liked best,” said Ketchen. “While we were in the field, we ran into a family from France bird watching on the grounds. I don’t think they had ever met a Native American before, and they were excited … It was nice.”

He also found it surprising that the other Native American students on the trip, including his lab partner who was from Montana, had tastes and stories that were so similar to his own even though they lived in different places.

“For me, it was great to get a different type of education – to meet other people who are culturally like me – while getting an education,” concluded Ketchen.

Pictures courtesy of Brian Amdur Photography