Guest Blog: It’s Native American Heritage Month!

November is Native American Heritage Month. For those who need a little history refresher, in 1990 President George W. Bush approved a resolution designating the month of November as Native American Heritage Month. The leaders of this nation have made such proclamations every year since. However, the fight for recognition did not start then. Since the early 1900’s, Native Americans have been trying to attain a national day of recognition for the contributions of the first peoples of this land. Dr. Arthur C. Parker (Seneca), Reverend Sherman Coolidge (Arapahoe), and Red Fox James (Blackfoot) all played seminal roles in advocating and promoting a day to nationally recognize the first peoples. Native American people in this country differ from other minority groups in that Native tribes have a unique government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government. Tribal nations are recognized as sovereign nations, and the treaties signed in the past still dictate how land, resources, and access to education and healthcare are distributed today.

“Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges. “ – National Congress of American Indians

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the UW SACNAS Chapter would like to recognize all of its Native American members and our community partners, the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council and the Urban American Indian/Alaskan Native Education Alliance. Their dedication to maintaining cultural values and traditional knowledge while becoming leaders and pursuing education is what makes SACNAS the diverse group that it is.

In this blog, I would like to highlight our Chapter’s history with the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council and their ongoing struggle for the preservation of the Indian Heritage School and advocacy for enhanced Native American education in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). Last week, Clear Sky and UAI/ANEA hosted a meeting between the Native community and the Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda/Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. During this ongoing meeting, community members were able to voice to their opinions on the state of Native education in SPS, funding availability, and the impending closure of the Indian Heritage School. It was a major success that they were able to hold the meeting in the cafeteria of the Indian Heritage School, where Clear Sky meets weekly for cultural and tutoring activities. Clear Sky youth gave testimony and community members tried to convey how we as Native people are intrinsically tied to our ‘Place of Power’ at Indian Heritage. There is a long history of Native American values, community, and battles won that binds each person to Indian Heritage.

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Meeting between the Native Community and Seattle Public School Superintendent and Seattle Mayor

The Indian Heritage School was founded in 1974 and was Seattle’s only public school dedicated to the educational support of the native learner. The Indian Heritage School blossomed with the support of community members and under the leadership of Principle Bob Eaglestaff. Principle Eaglestaff transformed Indian Heritage from a dark place commonly referred to as “The Last Stop on the way to No Future” to a vibrant community of students with promising futures. Unfortunately, Eaglestaff passed away unexpectedly in 1996, and Indian Heritage never quite recovered from the loss of his leadership and vision for the future. Slowly, enrollments rates dwindled and Indian Heritage was transformed into the Indian Heritage Middle College. Then, earlier this summer, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors announced that the Indian Heritage School would be closed and the school buildings demolished. This last decision was effective in removing the core of the remaining program – Native teachers were assigned to different schools, and only the Secretary Donna Dodgen and Principle Cindy Nash remain at Indian Heritage now. Today, Indian Heritage School has no Native focus, no Native instruction, and only a small handful of Native students.

Murals painted by Clear Sky youth and artist Andrew Morrison to honor the memory of Principle Bob Eaglestaff.

This announcement, with no consultation from Native parents and the community and in addition to the lack of attention and funding to Native education issues, incensed the Native community. Once again, Indian Heritage was being targeted for closure (as had happened in the past) and the voices of the Native community were being ignored and overlooked. In the past couple years, the remnants of the once vibrant Native community at Indian Heritage had begun reviving through the establishment of the Clear Sky Native Youth Council and communal gatherings held at the location. The school serves as a site where students get tutoring, participate in cultural activities, and play basketball. For two consecutive years, Indian Heritage has hosted the Native Youth Conference. This site has also hosted the University of Washington Annual Powwow and Youth Basketball camps. The building walls of the Indian Heritage School are covered with Native American murals. Artist, Andrew Morrison (Apache-Haida), knew he wanted to draw painting portraits of Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph after seeing the bleak building walls during a basketball game. Now the buildings host an array of beautiful murals portraying Native American icons and the lives of Native Americans. If the Indian Heritage School were demolished, it would leave Clear Sky and the Native-focused education program with no home. Once again, as has been witnessed in the long history of interaction with Native tribes, tactics involving the removal of an important land base to disrupt and destabilize the ability of the Native community to organize and form a cohesive group are being implemented.

The UW SACNAS Chapter has had a long-standing partnership with Clear Sky and UAI/ANEA. Since 2009, we have served as tutors and mentors to the youth throughout the school year during the weekly Clear Sky meetings. Our members have formed meaningful relationships with many of the Clear Sky students, and we see our participation as a means to encourage Native American students to pursue higher education and science degrees. In addition, the UW SACNAS Chapter has had the opportunity to present a yearly workshop at the Native Youth Conference. Through our interactions with Clear Sky and UAI/ANEA members, we recognize that the Indian Heritage School is an integral part of the Native American community. The Native American murals on the walls give us the sense that this is a place of coming together. Even though the cafeteria is not heated and sometimes the doors are locked, every week the Native community comes together at the Indian Heritage. They do this because this is their place; this is their school on the land that belonged to their ancestors. Indian Heritage is where their youth are being trained to become strong leaders and to embrace and be proud of their cultural heritage. It is a space of sharing and encouragement, and only through the support of the community will Indian Heritage be saved.

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Thank you to artist Andrew Morrison for providing photographs of the Indian Heritage murals.

Sources:

Native American Heritage Month

Indian Heritage Closes

The Metamorphosis of a Graffiti Delinquent

Eaglestaff’s Death Leaves Void

Sarah Sense-Wilson, Clear Sky parent organizer and UAI/ANEA co-chair, personal correspondence

Katrina Claw is a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Genome Sciences. She is a member of the Navajo tribe and calls Arizona her home. A more detailed profile of Katrina is located in an earlier blog post on Native American Heritage Month.

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Guest Blog: Teaching to Young Students about Plasma Science and Rocket Science

In an age where everything is becoming more and more technologically driven, a stronger emphasis has been placed on increasing the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce so that the US can continue to compete globally. As a result, STEM education is gaining more traction within educational circles. These are all positive developments. I still believe that there should be even more emphasis placed on empowering our youth in early childhood education to understand the importance of STEM. These students are highly impressionable without rigid ideologies. These young students are already scientists. They are fearless with a willingness to question everything and everyone. More importantly, we as citizenry can and must educate them so that they find their own voices with the willingness to innovate and critically think early on.

Since I strongly believe in the importance of STEM education, I had the opportunity to represent UW SACNAS and the University of Washington as I taught to young students about plasma science and rocket science. My outreach efforts were conducted at the Denise Louie Education Center, the Concord YMCA, and the Center for Linguistic and Cultural Democracy.

Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC): April 3, 2012

I had the distinct privilege of spending some time with the students, staff, and educators at the Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC) located in the International District. The overall mission of DLEC is to promote school and life readiness by providing multi-cultural early learning services to needy families and their children. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of teaching science to a class of 3 to 5 years old from very diverse backgrounds. Since some of these students were learning English for the first time, it meant that my words had to be concise, clear, and straightforward. With the help of lead teacher Brandon Blake, “master facilitator as I called him”, we were able to facilitate information about plasma science and advanced rocketry. Specifically, our discussion was about the substance of stars that fuels rockets. Brandon, also from Florida, had already familiarized his class about space and rocketry prior to my arrival. Since rocketry had been formally introduced, we focused primarily on understanding plasmas.

Structure:

I taught the lesson primarily on PowerPoint using only still images and videos. I made sure to ask questions that would require the students to critically think. I always reiterated that there were no wrong answers so that everyone felt included in the process as we were all learning.

We started out with a discussion about what are the different types of substances (e.g. solid, liquid, gas, and plasma). A slide of us discussing the different substances was shown in the photo below. From this slide, everyone recognized these images and gained an understanding about the different states of matter. Most of the students were able to identify ice cubes, water, and boiling water based on their sight and touch perceptions. The students recognized the sun, but didn’t know that it was the fourth state of matter i.e. plasma.

In order to understand more about our sun being plasma, the class engaged in a series of conversations about our sun, why it is plasma, and what plasma looks like in real time using videos from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). In the videos, one of which was shown in the photo below, Brandon and I asked the students what they saw and why they thought a particular phenomenon occurred. Based on their observations, the students were able to identify spots and loops on the sun which represented sunspots and the magnetic coronal loops.

After going through a series of videos from SDO, I wanted the class to evaluate whether or not using plasma as fuel would be more efficient than traditional chemical rockets. Brandon and I had mentioned to the class that the first three states of matter have been traditionally used for chemical rockets. A video was shown where we asked the students who would win the race. Before the start of the video, we took a tally. Half of the students chose chemical rockets and the other half chose plasma rockets. Who do you think one the race? Some of the students soon realized that it was similar to the tortoise and the hare race. The class was so filled with excitement (Brandon and I alike) that we watched it again to make sure everyone understood why the plasma rocket won the race.

Since the plasma rocket won the race, we wanted to show the class what a future mission to Mars and deep space would look like. Our young scientists at the end of the presentation felt that if they stayed interested in science then they could contribute to the development of advanced rockets. We had a number of them saying that they wanted to become astronauts and go to Mars. Here was a pretty cool photo of the group with the hands held high and all smiles.

At the end of the presentation, I wanted the class to put into practice what they had learned. The class participated in two activities displaying their knowledge from the lesson. The two activities were playing with a plasma globe and building their own suns using sugar cookies.

Plasma Globe:

A plasma globe is a device that contains a mixture of gases that display an array of light illuminated when electrical power is supplied. All of the students had the opportunity to play with the plasma globe and make observations once they touched it.

    

Solar Cookies:

For the solar cookie activity, each student recreated the dynamics seen on the surface of the sun. Each student was given licorice, skittles, vanilla frosting, sprinkles, and a sugar cookie. In the bottom left photo, the students were hard at work creating their own suns. Each student did an amazing job remembering the information we had discussed. A recreation of the sun can be shown from the student in the bottom right photo.

    

After completing the activities, we decided to take a group photo of all the scientists. Special thanks to Brandon Blake and the DLEC for helping me put on a successful lesson.

Concord YMCA: April 18, 2012

I talked with about twenty elementary students at the YMCA\Concord Elementary in West Seattle. I did a similar presentation as I had done with the DLEC, except this time I introduced more about rocket science with these students. The race between the chemical rocket and the plasma rocket was a major hit with these students as well. Based on my experience working with the preschoolers, I decided to come up with a more interactive activity session using the plasma globe. I brought in props such as fluorescent light bulbs and asked the students what they thought would happen. Applying what they learned from the lesson, the students told me that the light bulbs should light up when placed close to the plasma globe. Some of the students mentioned that the gas inside the bulbs would be excited when approaching the globe. I was really impressed. My main objective was to empower these students to think critically and after one lesson with them I witnessed the transformation.

Center for Linguistic & Cultural Democracy (CLCD): April 18, 2012

I talked with home-schooled 8 year olds at the CLCD located in South Seattle about plasma science and rocket science. Since this was a smaller group, I had the opportunity to also discuss general science and engineering topics. I also interacted with the parents and discussed topics to consider when educating their children.

I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Sharon Cronin for helping me coordinate the events at the Concord YMCA and the CLCD.

Guest Blog: Do You Feel Lucky Punk? Then Learn How To Internalize Your Success


The Seed Of Doubt:

I vividly remember waking up to a phone call I received a few years ago. Startled and disoriented I answered the phone expecting the usual deactivation threat from the good people at AT&T. Instead, I heard a pleasant voice from the University of Washington inviting me for an interview to potentially pursue my Ph.D.

Maybe they got my phone number mixed up with someone else’s? I couldn’t entertain the idea that I could “possibly” receive training from a top 5 ranked research institution. I kept thinking, “What luck? Why me?” This is when it all started:

My mom didn’t exactly put my GRE score on the refrigerator. My GPA was decent, but not spectacular and my research experience was, lets just say “untraditional.” So why did UW Medicine end up giving me a chance? I started reflecting on reasons why an institution so great would want an individual as “ordinary” as myself. Was it because my letters of recommendation were stellar? If that was the case, then this was based on someone else’s overinflated depiction of me and my achievements. I did obtain a fellowship at the NIH but that was only because I worked my way through the backdoor and started as an intern. I graduated with a bachelor of arts with high honors, but I studied anthropology not biochemistry, pre-medicine, or computer science. Real doubt consumed my subconscious when I realized: It must be because I am a minority student who grew up in a single family home, and attended a high school where it was common place to double your lunch money playing spades on the bathroom floor. UW must have felt sorry for me or at the very least they needed to meet the diversity statement on their homepage.

Say it with me “I am not a fraud”

“Impostor Syndrome” is the name given to the stream of consciousness I just described. I am two years into graduate school at UW and I am still worried about being “exposed.” Impostor syndrome is alive and well in all types of successful people: graduate students, professors, men and women, white and black, gay and straight. It’s real, and it’s not going anywhere. On the contrary, the more you achieve, the more you will feel like an impostor.

According to psychotherapy experts, Impostor Syndrome, “is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” “…Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and don’t deserve the success they have achieved.” We impostors chalk our successes up to a fluke of chance or just simply being lucky, and we are always in over our heads.

Only Diamonds Can Sharpen Diamonds:

If you can identify with my musings you are not alone. Everyone feels this way at some point when they are internalizing the successes in their life. There are several ways to cope with Impostor Syndrome, and consequently internalize your success:

Communicate. Misery loves company, so surround yourself with successful people because they are likely to feel like impostors too. Sharing your feelings with your peers is okay. This is the only way you can discover that your peers feel exactly like you do. I have to admit it’s immensely therapeutic to hear people that I believe are leagues more intelligent than me say, “I feel the same way.”

Under Sell, Over Deliver:

From what little success I have accumulated I can provide some advice. My first year of graduate school was one of the hardest transitions in my life. When you enter a new professional environment its very difficult to assess your progress, especially in graduate school. Moving forward and accumulating further success is a huge challenge. Comparing yourself and your accomplishments to others in your cohort is a natural yet toxic consequence of interacting with your peers. Comparing your experiences, strengths, and weaknesses to that of your peers is impossible and fruitless. Everyone’s path to success is different and you should use this as an opportunity to learn from your peers rather than compete with them.

Having an accurate pulse on your performance and progression in the work place is of great importance. Creating weekly lists and accomplishing them is something that works for me. I regularly set goals and share them with my advisor. If those goals are not accomplished in the time allocated we both leave our weekly meetings disappointed. That disappointment serves as motivation because I realize that I did not meet the goals we agreed on and this motivates me to work significantly harder the following week.

Doubt is Healthy, Fear is Paralyzing:

I am preparing to take my general exam this summer. This is not something I am looking forward to yet I know its necessary for me to progress from graduate student to Ph.D. candidate. My greatest fear is that I will fail my exam and not achieve a goal I have set for myself. However, I will not let that fear paralyze me. I will let that seed of doubt motivate me to work hard and communicate with my mentors when I am floundering. I will surround myself with people who encourage me to succeed. There’s a chance that I will make excuses about approaching and passing another milestone in my life. Ultimately, this milestone will serve as just another notch on my belt reenforcing my new train of thought. Because when I do pass my general exam it will be because I am legitimate not lucky. In the words of Thomas Jefferson “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

References:

  1. Langford, Joe; Clance, Pauline Rose (1993). “The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and Their Implications for Treatment” (PDF). Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training30 (3): 495–501.
  2. Lucas Laursen (2008) “No, You’re Not an Impostor.” United Kingdom. Science Careers.  Science Magazine.

Keolu Fox is a graduate student in the department of genome sciences. His research interests include human genome sequencing technology, and human genetic variation. 

Guest Blog: Dealing with the Impostor Syndrome: Not Once, But Twice

I began my graduate career back in 2004 in the field of Ethnomusicology. My cohort of 4 people included someone who was the Assistant Director of a non-profit organization that placed inner-city kids in music lessons and brought musicians from all over the world for performances and workshops, a blues musician and a long-time jazz musician who had met many of the famous names we speak about when we’re talking  about jazz. They were all at least 4 years older than me and had worked at various jobs within the music field since graduating from college. On the other hand, I was 22-years-old, straight out of finishing my undergraduate degree. I had just moved from Florida and was completely unfamiliar with the West Coast (the other three had lived somewhere on the West Coast all their lives). My partner and I had no friends and were just getting our bearings on where the closest grocery store was, specifically because we had no car and had to either walk or navigate the bus system. Our family and closest friends were 3,500 miles away.

Then there was graduate school. I figured that since I got good grades as an undergraduate and really enjoyed things like writing papers that graduate school would be the next logical step and it would be a very smooth transition. Boy, was I wrong! I sat in my first graduate seminar on a Thursday morning. The professor was one of those so-smart-his-brain-is-too-big-for-his-head type of guys. He didn’t look at anyone in particular when he spoke. He just stared off into space as  if he were talking to an audience that none of us were aware of but had to be in this room somewhere. He was rather awkward and seemingly unapproachable. I listened to every word he said during the 2-hour seminar and understood close to none of them. I took copious notes and decided to go to the library and check out every book he mentioned during his lecture. This proved quite stressful, as I also had to learn to navigate a new library system, so it took me a few hours to check out about 6 or 7 books. I walked home that afternoon with an arm full of books and I was mentally exhausted from the experience. I was totally lost. After the weekend passed, I mustered up the courage to speak to the others in my cohort. It turns out that despite the looks of confidence on their faces, they were all lost too!! I felt much better knowing that it wasn’t just me.

We formed a support/study group and met frequently, talking about our uncertainties in graduate school and our  interactions with this “scary” professor. We finally began to understand how this professor worked. He seemed quite unapproachable in class, but was incredibly supportive and helpful when you spoke to him one-on-one  in his office. He ended up serving as the chair of my MA thesis and was a great support for me when I faced issues in a course that I taught a few years later.

But that was only one class…there were other subjects besides the Music of Asia. In other classes, my colleagues would go off on tangents about jazz or about other things that I had never heard of in my life. They would jeopardize the discussion with the professor, who also had a broad knowledge base on the subject. Once again, I felt lost. Why did they know these things and I didn’t? Should I have known them? Did I miss all of this in a reading or something? Are they going to find out they admitted me by mistake because I’m not as smart as my colleagues? And there it was, the full-blown impostor syndrome!

After weathering the storm, I realized, again from talking to my colleagues, that there were times that they had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of some of the things that I had studied or experienced, and although they always looked confident, they were equally as lost as I was when they spoke (although I probably looked confused, not confident!) I realized over time that we were all admitted to the program for different reasons and that we were not expected to know everything. We were there to learn, and most importantly, to learn from each other. In fact, one of my colleagues who seemed to know everything about everything once told me that he didn’t know how to properly use citations until he read one of  my papers. I taught him how to do something and I didn’t even know it! I later realized that we were all supposed to be there, and suffering the impostor syndrome was normal and just a phase. I spent the next two years mentoring new students and telling them about the impostor syndrome and that it was OK to feel lost at first. I was the expert. I had been through it and was helping others, the way it should be. But then, for a variety of reasons, I switched over to the Sociology Department. And it happened again…

I entered the Sociology department in 2007 and was excited to begin my first/fourth year of graduate school. I was relatively new to the program, although the previous year I had taken a few statistics courses so I knew a few professors and some of the students in the program. In fact, one of my statistics professors, who was a heavy-weight in the department, wrote one of my letters of recommendation for admission. I felt confident that even though I took a huge leap from qualitative to quantitative research and from Music to Demography that I would be fine. After all, this wasn’t really my first year of graduate school so I knew what I was doing! My new classmates looked up to me because I exuded confidence and wasn’t nervous about the typical first-year issues of being lost in class and not knowing where the grocery store was near my house. And then, it happened…

I took a course taught by my former statistics professor and letter of recommendation-writer during my first quarter in Sociology. She was going through a lot that quarter personally and professionally and did not have the energy to keep the course organized. It was so disorganized that she gave us instructions for our final paper the week it was due. These instructions were completely the opposite of what she had expected earlier in the quarter. I scrambled to get this done, and ultimately had to ask for an extension because I was taking 14 credits (10 is a full load) and had too many other final projects to have to change this one as well. Being new to the field of Sociology, I had never written a final paper before, so here was my first stab in the field. I wrote the paper from home while visiting my parents in Florida. I spent an entire day working on it and felt pretty good when I submitted it.

When I returned from break, I saw that I had an envelope in my mailbox with my name written on it (misspelled!) I opened it and it was a 2-page, single-spaced letter from that professor ripping my paper to shreds. She had highlighted certain parts of my paper and had comments such as, “Did you even read this article?” And “If you think this person is a schmuck, just come out and say it!” The last sentence was, “This would only be a B- undergraduate paper.” I was crushed. Here I was, I had just completely changed my graduate major and had to start over in a different field after 3 years and I picked the wrong field! I was barely capable of writing a good paper at an undergraduate level. I had made a mistake and so had they. They admitted me by mistake. They found out I wasn’t as smart as I thought. Maybe I was a good student in Ethnomusicology, but Sociology certainly wasn’t my field. After reading the letter and holding back tears, I brought a trusted friend of mine to the 7th floor bathroom in Condon Hall and just cried. I was hurt. I had regrets. I couldn’t believe what had happened! I even showed up to the first day of the first class I was taking with my advisor late and with red eyes. I didn’t want my classmates to know what had happened because I wanted them to think that I was still as confident as the first day I began our program. I wasn’t going to suffer from the impostor syndrome, I was going to warn them so that they never did!

I decided to send an email to the professor apologizing for wasting her time with the paper and explaining that I did not do a poor job on purpose. I wanted to make it up to her to re-do the paper so I could learn from my mistakes; not to get a better grade, but to prove to her that I could to it and improve myself as an academic. She responded immediately and graciously accepted my apology. Things were looking good.

After swallowing my pride, I was able to talk to some classmates about it. Apparently she ripped into a few others as well, not just me. Also, one of her advisees said, “You probably caught her on a day where she was in a bad mood and she lashed out on you. That’s one of her faults. Don’t take it personally.” I realized this was probably true because every time I saw this professor, whether it was in the hallway or in our neighborhood while she was walking her dog, she was very awkward towards me. I tried emailing her several times over 2 years asking if she was still willing to meet with me (she never gave me a grade either, so I ended up with an incomplete in her course!) She never responded to my requests via email but always in person said awkwardly, “I’ve just been so busy but I know I owe you a meeting.” I realized after all this time passed, that my friend was right: it wasn’t me with the problem, it was her. After this course, I never received any other criticism like that from any other professor. Sure, my work is not perfect, and from time-to-time I got some harsh criticism, but nobody ever attacked me the  way she did. It is unfortunate that the isolated incident occurred right at the beginning of my time in Sociology and that it set off triggers of the too-familiar impostor syndrome. I should have known better, but instead fell victim to the very thing  I was trying to protect others from and swore I could detect from a mile away!

We all go through ups and downs in graduate school. These are a few stories of my downs. On the upside, I’ll be graduating in June with a PhD and while these stories shaped me, they did not define who I was and how I proceeded in graduate school. Impostor syndrome, you tried to get me twice, but you lose! I belong here. 

Sabrina Bonaparte is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department. Her research areas are Demography, Statistics and Education. She is the manager of the UW SACNAS blog.  

Guest Blog: To identify my role as a Woman in Science: I first must honor my Mother, my Family and my past.

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My name is Laurel L James (Ta waat). I am the daughter of Arlene Wesley James (Shii quimpt) and the late, Ernest James (Thel Cleputsch) of Harrah, Washington.  I’m a Mother to my wonderful 14 year old son, Joseph (Nekewyema).   I am an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation and a Graduate student within the University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Professionally, my career has been spent within the field of Natural Resource Management.  I began this career working in various Fire Management positions.  For a few seasons, I worked in fire control and suppression of forest and rangeland fires as a part of either an Engine or Helitack crew for the Yakama Nation.  Then, I was recruited for the USFS; Entiat Hotshot crew.  During my time with the hotshots; I was recruited back to the Yakama Nation to co-manage crews as a part of the Northern Spotted Owl Project.  I began this role in December of 1990 and; would spend the next 17 years, working in various capacities for the Wildlife Resources Management Program.  During this time, I was also rasing a son and when he turned 10 years old; I set into motion plans to return to Seattle and the UW campus, to finish my degree.  Currently, I work part-time, as a program manager within the UW Chemical Engineering Department on the WSU led, NARA, Aviation Biofuels grant.  I also work part-time as an Independent Contractor with the National Indian Forest Management Assessment Team (IFMAT).  These experiences, my love for the outdoors and my strong sense of family have led me to where I am today ~ a woman, engaged in science.

I grew up on the Yakama Indian Reservation, a 1.3 million acre reservation located in South-central Washington State.  I am one of 8 children (5 women).  I come from a very large family and our strength extends from our strong sense of ‘family ’.  This notion was transferred to us, from our parents; they had a strong marriage.

My father spent his early years in White Swan and the Ahtanum areas before moving to Vashon Island.  He graduated from Vashon Island High School, received a scholarship and played football at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.  Upon completion of his first year of college, he enlisted in the Army, completed Officer Candidates School and served in the Korean Conflict.

My Mother was raised on the Yakama Reservation by her grandmother Emily (Shii quimpt) Twain a nash and within the Yakima Indian Christian Mission.  Removed from her home, like many of the other Yakama youth of her time, she would be raised and educated within the public school system and by Christian Missionaries.  For as many of the horror stories that have been published about these schools and this time in the history of our Yakama people and; not to diminish those atrocities, the one thought that comes to my mind is; this is when determination and perseverance began to flow, thick in my blood.  My Mother survived the punishments that went along with speaking her native tongue ~ Sahaptin or; practicing any of the tribal traditions that she had been taught.  She never lost sight of the individual and culture that she was born into – despite this upbringing.  With her culture and traditional teachings in hand, my Mother would become the 1st Miss Indian America (1953), she was crowned during the All American Indian Days Celebration held in Sheridan, Wyoming. Then, pageant contestants were judged on their appearance, communication skills, knowledge and practice of culture teachings, knowledge of tribal, federal and state governments and talent in traditional and contemporary tribal skills.

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During her reign as Miss Indian America, my parents would meet.  At this time my Dad worked in the shipyards and for Boeing, in Seattle, WA. He was attending the the Pioneer Days Powwow held in Lake City, WA, when they met.  Ernest Charles James Teeias (a descendant of Chief Teeias) and Arlene Josephine Wesley were married in 1954, they were the first couple to be married in the Log Church, located in White Swan,WA.  They were married for 57 years when my father passed on in February 2011.  I believe strength in family and in life extend from the examples set from this type of commitment to one another.  Honor, grace, dignity, respect and commitment – all go hand in hand – this is what they taught me.

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I am second to the youngest, of 8 children.  I was born in Yakima, WA, raised and educated on the Yakama Reservation.  Given my Mom’s background, I was raised in both the Christian Log Church and in the Toppenish Creek Longhouse; in the Longhouse we follow the Washat, 7 drums religion.  I am also a part of the Wasco, medicine society taking part in those spiritual, healing ceremonies.  We would spend some Sundays at the Christian Church and other Sundays following our Longhouse ways.  I think this type of an upbringing provided a strong sense of ‘self’ in learning to identify ‘who’ I was in relation to the rest of the world.  I take pride in the fact that I can recognize the land, culture and identity of being – Yakama.  I was raised within the Powwow circle and still enjoy and participating in these types of celebrations although, it is much more difficult to find the time to participate while working and going to school.

Now that I’m here on a college campus, at 42 years of age, I can honestly say that I’m not the ‘traditional’ student, by any stretch of the imagination.  I graduated from White Swan High School in 1987.  During my high school years, I excelled in sports; was selected as the senior female athlete of my graduating class and considering the company that I was in; that was truly an honor.  I lettered in each; Volleyball, Basketball and Track served as Captain of the Volleyball team and represented our school while playing in the State Tournaments, in both Volleyball and Basketball.  I also represented our school at the State Track and Field meet during my Senior year.

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Academically, I took as many advanced courses that I could have taken, at that time.  I took Algebra in 8th grade, college English during my freshman year and was the only student enrolled in my computer science class.  Back then, computer science had nothing to do with writing ‘Smartphone Apps’; back then, my computer programs were written onto cassette tapes!  My Son can’t even begin to understand that!  This was also a time in which; college was not on the radar.  However, I was fortunate to have someone like Mrs. Heffner and Miss Hubert to introduce those ideas to me.  Miss Hubert started me in College English, earning me credits at YVCC; while I was still in High School. Mrs. Heffner, my computer science teacher and my Volleyball coach, soon had me dreaming of becoming a sports trainer, so much so, that I began attending the Eastern Washington University, Sports Medicine Camps every summer.  I was then gaining experience in HS, as a student trainer.  I may not have ended up as a sports trainer however; it did introduce me to the collegiate environment.

Coming from such a humble background, if I was going to attend college, I knew I needed to make it happen on my own.  I worked my way through my Associate of Arts & Science at Yakima Valley Community College; this was not an easy task.  I went to school at YVCC and Heritage University (College) attending school on nights and/or weekends to gain the AAS.  All the while, I was working full time and managing crews at the Yakama Nation.  I would then enroll at the University of Washington to begin my BS in Forest Resources – Wildlife Science.  I would maintain a partial employment with the tribe to help me work my way towards my BS degree.  Nearing the age of 30 and nearing the end of my BS degree program, my life would radically change course and I would become a Mother.  As sometimes happens in life, I would also become a single parent and was forced to leave school and return to work full-time.

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I never gave up on my desire to finish college but, it would have to wait a few years.  While working at the tribe, I continued to work hard and gain valuable skills in the field of Forestry and Wildlife.  I would eventually become the first Yakama to be recognized as one the Wildlife Conservation Society’s, international research fellows.  With this distinction, I was able to utilize the grant funding to begin a GPS Mountain Goat study, on the Yakama Reservation.   Eventually, this fellowship provided the data to return to school and finish my BS degree in Wildlife Science. I still had a one-year, Bachelor’s thesis remaining on the degree; I returned to school, when my son was 10 years old.  I then began my quest for a graduate degree. First, I set out to expand upon the mountain goat work on the Yakama Reservation via, a statewide habitat assessment of habitat.

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After spending a year in the remote sensing and geospatial lab at UW; I was introduced to the UW Bioenergy IGERT director and my path would once again, change.  I accepted the IGERT fellowship and would soon be working in the Bioenergy arena.  After a year of coursework, I established collaboration with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of Montana.  During our IGERT year, we completed bioenergy assessments for the tribe and; I would define a separate Master’s Thesis topic, with the CSKT Forestry Department in Fire Ecology.  I am now working to finish the MS degree and I’ve begun planning for my PhD which, could incorporate: forest policy & law, education and workforce development needs of Tribal Nations.

If you had asked me in 1987, where I would end up… I would never have been able to dream of the reality that I’m living today.  I am a single parent, graduate student and I’m holding down 2 AMAZING part-time positions that truly bring my education and professional work experience, full circle.  Native teachings talk about the cycle of life and how everything is ‘inter-connected’. I think my background truly represents this belief – I’ve come full circle.

I may have accomplished many things in my life however; my greatest achievement, to date, is being a mother to Joe.  At less than a week old, a special ceremony was held for him in Warm Springs, OR where; he was blessed by members of the Wasco Medicine Society.  He has truly been a blessing to so many others, since his birth.  Joseph is Yakama/Navajo, is an enrolled member of the Yakama nation and is learning the traditional teachings of his tribe. He will undoubtedly envision a brighter future for himself, in large part, due to the bright inspiring minds that we are surrounded by, here at UW.  Joe, is a freshman at Roosevelt High School, is a member of the UW MESA program and an extended member of the UW SACNAS chapter.  He is truly the source of my strength and inspiration to ‘finish what I’ve started’; in terms of my college aspirations.  It is not easy to take the route that I’ve taken in life.  However, I’m proving that it is possible; possible to dream of things that may seem out of reach, due to the financial hardships.  It is possible to overcome barriers, with strength and determination, all things are possible and I know this is something that many tribal members also face.  I could not be prouder of this young man, young violinist, young teacher and budding scientist. This past year, he presented his 8th grade science project as a part of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society, pre-college program.  He represented himself well and placed second, for his work pertaining to water quality.  He even practiced his presentation at one of the SACNAS, monthly chapter meetings!  He is thriving in this environment!

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While Joe is carving out his path, we’ve definitely relied heavily upon the ‘extended’ family that we’ve built up here in the UW & Seattle area.  My fellow colleagues, from the UW campus and SACNAS environment have all had a hand in helping me mold and shape him into the bright, young aspiring scientist that we see today. Our SACNAS chapter is a part of our family!

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Throughout life, you live, and exhibit the characteristics that you develop throughout life.  Strength and weakness, kindness and humility, love and compassion; cannot be taught, they are learned.

My parents taught us to ‘do as much as you can’, everyday.  Help when you can….don’t wait to be asked.  In fact, you should always jump up and jump in, do what you can, before someone has to ask you to help out.  That was our teaching.  During Joe’s younger days, we were living with my parents to help them care for my elderly Grandfather; (Joe’s namesake) Joseph Nekewyema Wesley.  My assistance provided some relief to my Sister (Launa) and Sister-in-Law (Connie); they were also providing care for my Grandfather and; between the 3 of us, we were able keep him at home and out of the nursing home.  This was hard work; sometimes I’d get home from my 10-12 hour days of working in the forest and would immediately begin the night-time ritual in providing care for him.  Joe also had long days since, I would drop him off or pick him up before and after my day of work.  So, he kept the same hours that I did (Albeit, he had the opportunity to nap during the day 🙂 but, he was a child.  Joe and I would be responsible for gathering or bringing in the fire-wood, to help reduce the electric bills.  So, as a young boy, Joe was learning that life is not always fun and filled with hard work.  He also learned that family comes first.  You take care of family and you treat ALL people with dignity and respect.  Visiting with his great-grandfather while I provided the nightly care; taught Joe a thing or two about compassion and empathy.  It definitely prepared him for life’s next challenge; in which we all watched and adjusted to his Grandfather (my Father), transition through the stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Until my Dad’s final days, Joe was the one individual that could still bring a sense of calm peace to my Father’s day.

One of the other areas that I’ve tried to stress to Joe is the need to volunteer and make a difference in someone else’s day.  For years, I volunteered with the Crisis Line at Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health in Yakima; while I worked and went to school full-time.  A few hours, answering phone calls during the middle of the night; was enough to make a difference in the lives of those individuals that needed someone to listen to them.  I’ve also been able to volunteer in other arenas where my academic and or professional training, came in handy.  Volunteering is a great opportunity and I wish we could do more.  Joe has volunteered the past 4 years at an after-school program here in Seattle and feels the rewards of being involved and making a difference in lives of those kids that he works with.  To those kids, he has made a tremendous difference.

All of these experiences combined speak volumes about compassion, humility, strength, determination and perseverance.  I honor my parents:  First, my Dad for teaching me about strength and the idea of ‘never quitting’.  I honor my Mom, for showing me how to hang onto the things that are important, without the expectation of getting something in return all the while, persevering and knowing who you are; while walking with grace and dignity.  I honor my teachings and my cultural beliefs; all of these things were shown to me and are all things that I hope to pass onto my Son.  These experiences have shaped me into the woman that I am today, a woman engaged in science and totally blessed to be a woman that is also a Mom!

Laurel James is a graduate student in Forest Resources at the University of Washington.

Guest Blog: My Lineage of Strong Women

What do you get when you cross a bookkeeper and a baker?  You get, Me!

Visiting the Mayan ruins at Caracol

My name is Amber Caracol and I was born and raised in Hawaii.  I am in my first year of teaching Biology after receiving my PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Washington last summer.  I am a first generation college graduate and the first person in my family to pursue a doctoral degree.  While a graduate student, I studied DNA repair mechanisms and how they related to cancer and chemotherapy.  I love teaching science and am passionate about promoting diversity in higher education, especially among women and other underrepresented minorities in the sciences.

I have been influenced by many great women including my family members, friends, teachers, mentors and women in history. I am so lucky to have many positive influences within my family, including my Aunties, Cousins and Sisters.   In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to share stories of my family and how I became who I am today.

As a child, I often wondered what I would be when I grow up.  Would I be a baker like my Dad or a bookkeeper like my Mom?  Or maybe a clerk typist or a clinical service representative, like my Grandmothers?  When I was 7, I remember thinking that maybe I could be a doctor to help people when they get sick.  I had a couple of part-time jobs throughout high school- a teacher’s assistant at a preschool, a summer camp counselor, and then an assistant at a pottery shop.  I enjoyed these opportunities because I was able to interact with children and help them develop into their own person.  Many kids had their birthday parties at the pottery shop and although sometimes exhausting, nothing was better than helping them create masterpieces of art and seeing the joy and smiles it brought.

I attended La Pietra School, a private all-girls college preparatory school in Honolulu, from 6th through 12th grade.  I learned many important study skills and gained confidence in academics that would serve as a foundation for my life as a scholar.  When I entered my high school years, I still didn’t really know what I would be.  I excelled in school.  I was very involved with extracurricular activities like student government, peer leadership and yearbook.  I was active in sports- at one point I played volleyball, basketball and paddled.  If I were taller, I would have liked to pursue playing volleyball, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen and decided to focus on my education.  Somewhere deep down, I knew that education was going to be the key to my success and a way to help others while making the world a better place.

After many, many years of schooling, first for my high school diploma from La Pietra School, then my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii and most recently, my doctoral degree from the University of Washington, I know that I would not be where I am today without the influences of strong women in my family.

Although I didn’t have the privilege to know them, I would like to share the stories of two of my great-grandmothers (one from my maternal Korean side and the other from my paternal Filipino side), who were both strong women and pioneers in their day.

My maternal great-grandmother, Mallak (Yee) Choi, was a picture bride from Korea.  She came to Hawaii to marry my great-grandfather, Sum Cho Choi, a man whom she had only seen in a picture.  Her parents died when she was 10 and her brother thought she could have a better life in Hawaii.  He paid a middle man in Hawaii who matched her with my great-grandfather, Sum Cho. Great-grandmother Mallak was 16 when she arrived in Hawaii to marry a man whom she thought was in his 30’s.  She soon found out that her groom-to-be was an older Korean man and that he sent a picture of himself when he was younger.  Great-grandfather Sum Cho thought he was about to marry a woman in her 30’s, not a teenager.  The middle man had tricked them, but she didn’t have any money to go back to Korea.  Despite their age difference, they married and started a family together on the island of Lanai.

Great-grandfather Sum Cho worked really hard in the pineapple fields and cleaned the bath houses to earn the little money that they had to raise their family.  Great-grandmother Mallak did whatever she could to contribute.  She did laundry and made “swipe”, fermented pineapple juice that she made in bottles under the house to serve to the plantation workers.  Because this was illegal, the police would come to the house to break the bottles she had stored under the house.  She had seven children, one of whom is my maternal grandmother, Sarah (Choi) Palisbo, who would share some of her stories of growing up in old Hawaii and working in the fields.  My great-grandmother Mallak had no idea that she would marry and start a family with a man 30 years older than her or live her life on the plantation.    I can’t begin to imagine what she felt throughout her life other than complete love for her children and wanting to give them a better life, which she did exactly that!

My great-grandmother Mallak at the age of 82.

Around the same time that my great-grandmother Mallak left Korea, my paternal great-grandmother, Maria (Segocio) Caracol, left the Philippines as a stow-away on a ship bound for Hawaii.  It was on this ship that she met my great-grandfather Damian Caracol.  The story goes that the Filipino migrants on board started taking picks of whom they would marry when they reached Hawaii.  Papa Damian picked Mama Maria and they wed once they got to Hawaii.  They had seven children, including my paternal grandfather, Theodulfo Caracol, and made their living working in the sugar cane fields.  Papa Damian also was in the bootleg liquor business to make ends meet any way they could and raise their family.  I often wonder how Mama Maria felt when she decided to make the journey to Hawaii and then as a stow-away on a ship to a place that she had never been before.  What a brave woman to seek a better life for herself, despite the risks.  I just can’t imagine what it would be like to live on a ship with the constant fear of getting caught.  I am so thankful that ALL of my great-grandparents made it safely to Hawaii and started their families.

My great-grandparents, Papa Damian and Mama Maria Caracol

Papa Theodulfo Caracol, my paternal grandfather married my grandmother, Mama Victoria (Tangonan) Caracol.  Her parents, Teodorico and Emiliana Tangonan, came to Hawaii from the island of Luzon from the Ilocos region of the Philippines.  They first arrived on the island of Kauai and worked on the sugar cane plantations.  They had 4 children, my grandma Victoria and her siblings, Victor, Robert and Mary.

Papa and Mama Caracol had six children, my Dad, Richard, and his siblings Theodulfo Jr., Debra, Roy, Guinevere, and Ariadne.  Mama Caracol is such a strong and loving woman.  She is the backbone and cares for everyone in our family: her children, us grandchildren and also now, her great-grandchildren, my nieces and nephews.  She is nurturing and supportive, sharing her wisdom no matter what the situation.  She is a great example for me of someone who does what she is passionate about, which for Mama is traveling and seeing the world.  She is in her seventh decade and still lives her life to the fullest: working, traveling, and spending time with the family.  As our family continues to grow, she still maintains a close relationship with each of us and has provided support, strength and nurturing whenever I need it.

Mama and I at her 75th Birthday Celebration!

I come from a lineage of strong women and my mother, Paula Caracol, is no exception.  Her paternal grandparents, Angel and Gaudencia (Humalon) Paalisbo, also came to Hawaii from the island of Cebu in the Visayas of the Philippines and had my grandfather, Theodoro Palisbo (he changed the spelling of his last name to Palisbo).  Grandpa Palisbo was in the Army and Grandma Palisbo was a clerk typist.  They had three children, my Mom, Paula and her younger siblings, Peter and Amy.

My grandma, Sarah Palisbo

My Mom has been a bookkeeper since she was a young woman and one of her clients was a bakery, which is where she met my dad, Richard Caracol, a baker.  It is from my Mom that I get the analytical and innovative traits while inheriting creativity and originality from my Dad.  For as long as I can remember, my mom worked very hard to raise my sisters and me herself.  She filled multiple roles in her career and as a parent.  She worked three jobs and would say that she had three jobs, one for each of us.  While growing up, her main job was running her own tax and bookkeeping business.  She also ran a preschool and was a Christmas card salesperson.  She worked around the clock in order to provide for us and allow us to receive good education.  With the help of scholarships to defray the cost of tuition, my sisters and I all received college-preparatory education in high school that enabled us to be successful in college.  I am the second person in our family (after my older sister, Karisa) to receive a Bachelor’s degree.  I earned my Bachelor of Science in Biology with distinction from the University of Hawaii in 2004.  Karisa received her Bachelor’s degree in International Business from Linfield College in 2002 and our younger sister, Charity, earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Hawaii this past December.  It is from my mom that I learned hard work and perseverance.  She never gave up when things got hard but just kept pushing forward.  She has instilled this work ethic in me and a desire to pursue my interests no matter how daunting or difficult.

Mom and daughters, Karisa, Charity and I

When I was in high school, my Mom always told me that the grade doesn’t matter, only to be sure that I did the best that I could and I truly believed it.  In high school, I was very active in many things, as I mentioned above.  Despite the busy schedule, I liked to participate in all the activities and took hard classes because I thought they were interesting.  I knew that my grades didn’t really matter and that I would only be content with myself knowing that I have done my best.  It is the latter sentiment that allows me to push myself every day.  Becoming the class valedictorian and earning various awards, scholarships and fellowships throughout my schooling was a by-product of trying my best.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was the smartest in my classes, but I do believe that my dedication, perseverance and giving my all no matter what the situation, is how I have gotten to this point in my life.  My mom is someone who possesses all of those qualities.  It is through all of these experiences both inside and outside of the classroom that I have learned about subjects like Biology and Math and also about life and inner strength.

While studying at the University of Hawaii, I initially planned on being a History major, but I got hooked on science after I took Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology and did undergraduate research through the Haumana (IMSD) and MARC Programs.  I loved learning about DNA, how our bodies can repair damaged DNA and how cancer can develop when these pathways stop working.  It was around this time that I realized how much I loved science and doing research as much as I loved learning new things and helping others.  Shortly after, I decided that I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree and become a Science Professor.  I had no idea what to expect from graduate school or what it meant to be a graduate student.  Matriculating into the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program at the University of Washington was an exciting and very daunting challenge.  This meant leaving my family, friends and everything that I had ever known to start a new life as a graduate student in Seattle, not entirely unlike what all of my great-grandmothers did when they came to Hawaii.

After transitioning to Seattle and UW, I created a great network of support which included my friends, classmates and lab-mates.  I helped to start the Society for Advancement of Chicanos / Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences (SACNAS) Student Chapter at UW.  The Chapter has become my science family with a long list of strong women and colleagues who have been my support system and inspiration throughout graduate school.  This list includes Amanda Bruner, Dr. Charla Lambert, Katrina Claw and Savannah Benally, dear friends that I would have not gotten to this point without.

My SACNAS Family

After seven hard years of graduate school, I finally earned my PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a certificate in Molecular Medicine.  I learned so much about DNA repair, conducting research, experimental design, data analysis, scientific writing, working with human tissues, and communicating science and my work to others.  I worked on many projects throughout graduate school and completed my dissertation, “Involvement of DNA repair factors, WRN and MRE11, in the response to the chemotherapeutic agent, camptothecin” last August.  When I finished graduate school, my future career was very uncertain.  I didn’t know if I would be able to find a job or get training to be a Science Professor.  I didn’t have a postdoc or full-time job lined up when I submitted my dissertation, but I knew that I had gotten this far and I couldn’t let go of my dream to be a Professor who is successful at teaching biology as well as guiding students to pursue their passions.

University of Washington Class of 2011

During the months leading up to my completion, I sent my CV out to community colleges and small colleges throughout Washington in addition to applying for jobs in Washington and California.  I ended up interviewing and received adjunct faculty positions to teach Biology at North Seattle and Seattle Central Community Colleges in the Fall quarter.  I was ecstatic!  Even though I did not have a true full-time position, I had positions to teach two courses (General Biology with labs) at the community college level and also a weekly lab section at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB), which in a way, seemed like a full-time job cumulatively.  This quarter I am teaching two courses with labs (General Biology and Anatomy and Physiology) at North Seattle Community College (NSCC) in addition to the part-time position at UWB.

Teaching is great.  I absolutely love it!  I enjoy teaching science and about the biological processes that make us humans.  I love seeing that moment when the lightbulbs go on in my students’ heads about science and being able to interact with students, showing them that it possible to pursue your passion no matter how daunting or difficult.  It has been a learning experience which requires transitioning (but that will have to be the topic another blog!). But, I know this is a learning curve well worth it as this is the start of my path to being a Professor and making a difference in my student’s lives, which I know will not be realized without hard work and perseverance.

It is from my family lineage, my upbringing and life experiences that I am passionate about student development, and diversity and inclusion in higher education and the STEM fields.  Just as a protein’s properties are influenced by the genetic code, so are my characteristics and passions influenced by my genetic code: traits of bravery, pioneerism, strength, hard work, dedication and perseverance that must have been passed down through my X chromosomes.

Amber Caracol currently teaches at UW Bothell and North Seattle Community College. She earned her PhD from the University of Washington in 2011 in Molecular and Cellular Biology and is a past president and founder of the UW SACNAS chapter. 

My maternal side of the family back home in Hawaii.