Welcome San Manuel Scholars to Winter Institute

Our largest and most diverse group of students ever

This January, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health hosted 47 students during our 2019 Winter Institute. With participants from 15 tribal nations, it was our most diverse group yet. We were thrilled to welcome the chairwoman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Gwendena Lee-Gatewood (pictured below) as a lecturer and guest speaker. Ms. Lee-Gatewood earlier completed a Public Health Training Certificate for American Indian Health Professionals from the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. In opening comments, Ms. Lee-Gatewood shared her thanks for “the relations that our tribe has with Johns Hopkins, founded on the principles of trust, faith, and mutual respect.”

The Center is fortunate for the generous supporters who make these Institutes available to a growing number of exceptional Native scholars from dozens of tribes. Besides being given support for travel and tuition, each scholar is assigned to a Center faculty member who provides educational and professional mentorship.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians supported an exceptional mix of diverse scholars to this Winter Institute: A disability rights activist from the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas; an epidemiology doctoral student from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; a Navajo research assistant working to stop suicide in her community; and a health coordinator fighting domestic violence and methamphetamine use in the Chinle Service Unit on the Navajo Nation. 

As she works toward her MPH at the University of Minnesota, Crystal Wabnum, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, advocates for vulnerable members of her community. She also works to address health disparities in communities of color in the Twin City area and participates in university committees focused on equity for marginalized students, such as those living with a disability. Crystal said this about her calling:

“I study historical trauma and resilience among indigenous peoples—it’s not for the faint of heart. One of my callings is to join the movement toward healing intergenerational trauma among indigenous peoples. Pursuing a graduate degree in public health is one of the ways I demonstrate a reverence for my ancestors and commit to a career ameliorating health inequity among tribal peoples.”

Madison Anderson, a PhD student in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, is a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Ms. Anderson had the following to say about her inspiration for studying public health with the Center: 

“I crave the opportunity to be taught by my people about diseases affecting my community and interventions that support and appreciate traditional knowledge. Through the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, I was exposed to behavioral interventions that sparked my interest in increasing healthy behaviors in American Indian communities through research. My first institute was eye-opening. Being at the institute provided me with an opportunity to learn not only from my instructors but also from my peers within the class.”

Charnielle Desiderio, a member of the Navajo Nation, is working with her colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health’s Shiprock office to establishing a surveillance system to track instances of self-harming behavior within the Shiprock Indian Health Service unit as part of the Southwest Hub for American Indian Youth Suicide Prevention Research. Ms. Desiderio also works on the NativeVision sports and life skills program and the Family Spirit Nurture study. We asked about her first impressions of the Center’s training program.

“I learned so much within the week of Winter Institute. The classrooms were filled with positive energy and the individuals were passionate about helping their Native communities. I believe the training program gives students the confidence to take that initiative to help their people and communities. All the presentations were relevant to my work—for example, I learned the importance of screening at-risk young people for suicidal ideation and directing these adolescents to support services.” 

Cassandra M. Allen, a member of the Navajo Nation with Puerto Rican heritage, is Coordinator of the Indian Health Service Chinle Health Service Unit, within the Health Promotion department. Ms. Allen, who holds a Master of Administration in Health Sciences, serves as Project Director for Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative and supervises the Native youth-focused Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative. We asked Cassandra why she is passionate about public health:

“I believe I do make a difference. With the opportunity to attend the Institute I am building my credentials to become a more influential and impactful leader. My work in public health honors my heritage, my culture, and my family—parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.”

How you can help

With the support of generous partners like the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health provides scholarship funding to Native Americans every year. Since 2001 more than 1,000 American Indian and Alaska Native scholars representing 30 tribal communities across North America have been supported to pursue higher education and health careers through programs spanning high school to post-doctoral education through the Centers Training Program. 

We are currently implementing a Campaign to raise $3 million over the next two years to train 500 additional American Indian and Alaska Native scholars. As part of the campaign, we are reaching out to other foundations, Tribal Nations, and federal agencies to seek support. Please contact Kristen Speakman at kspeakma@jhu.edu if you would like to learn more, or make a gift directly online.

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