From Florida to Arizona
The morning of March 24th, I got a phone call from Amee Hennig, the education and outreach manager from CIAN. She had called to say that I got accepted to CIAN’s IOU-NA program. A program designed to help Native American Undergraduate students from across the US, become an integral part of the research experience, specifically in the Optical Science department at the University of Arizona.
Arizona? When I applied to the program, I was not looking forward to the idea of spending the summer in Arizona, but I had always wanted to visit the land of my people. I was reminded that I had prayed for this a while ago, so I kept an open mind and decided to focus on the opportunity at hand instead. Even before I stepped foot into Tucson, CIAN was there to help me every step of the way.
So I got on a plane and headed to Tucson.
When I arrived at the dorms, I met my roommate. Her name is Leah, she is from Medway, Massachusetts. She was in a similar program (Hooked On Photonics) although not designed for natives, we quickly became friends and started our summer together.
The next day, we had an orientation session with the director and coordinators of the programs. Everyone from the IOU-NA and HoP programs sat in a conference room with the directors and coordinators of the programs. After we introduced ourselves, and our origins we sat down, ate bagels and listened as Allison Huff, Amee Hennig, and Daniel Lamoreaux, briefed us on everything from the source of our funding, to what labs we would be in, to what workshop and events the program had to offer us. They assured us this would be a positive and enlightening experience for all of us.
To be clear, CIAN is a engineering institute. There are 3 thrusts: Optical Communication Systems and Networking, Subsystem Integration and Silicon Nanophotonics, and Materials & Devices. The labs at the college of optical sciences, work in at least one of these thrusts to further their goal: To create and transform current technologies for the purpose of creating a cheaper, and faster Internet.
Since Optical Science is such a specialized field, there were not many labs available to each person in the program, and even some people were assigned to work in the same lab. Since NSF was funding the program, I was given the option to work in an area that I was more familiar with. I am a Chemistry major, and I had chosen to work with a lab designed to focus on chemistry and environmental science.
But before any of us could jump into the exciting studies our professors had for us, we had to attend weekly workshops to help us learn some basics of lasers and the behavior of light. We learned to set up lasers and had some quizzes testing our knowledge of basic physics, and the application of electronics to maintenance we would eventually have to perform in our respective labs.
Optical Science Workshop: Setting up a laser
Before the program started, I did some research on the professor I was to be working for and his project. I made sure to read his published papers and email him about questions I had so that I could be prepared when I got there. It turns out that my professor was working on a project that characterized contaminants found in suspended particulates in the atmosphere at Arizona Superfund sites. So they worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to shut down hazardous waste sites. That classification of a Superfund Site, gives them the legal authority to go onto these sites and perform studies, and from these studies, take action to clean up the sites to help save the environment and the people living in the affected and surrounding areas.
So from this point on I will explain my experience in the Lab of Dr.Betterton, the head of an Atmospheric Science lab at the University of Arizona, and the Department head of the institute of Atmospheric Physics.
First, I met with the head of the lab itself. His name is Kyle, and he pretty much runs every aspect of the lab and reports directly to Dr.Betterton. From that point, I would be working with him. We sat down and he explained his expectations of me and what the whole project was about, its goals, and the current state the lab was in.
He was excited that I had a background in analytical chemistry since pretty much all analysis was analytical in nature, and I was excited because I didn’t feel overwhelmed and I could actually contribute to a project I genuinely felt interested in.
The first portion of my project was collecting samples from designated superfund sites, and at risk sites.
The second portion (thankfully) was done in the lab.
The electronics workshops had helped greatly, since some of the instruments were about as old as I am, they were temperamental, and required frequent maintenance.
Although, I found lab to be exciting in and of itself, CIAN wanted to incorporate a fun and educational agenda of field trips to interesting sites around Tucson.
One of the places we visited was the Kitt Peak Observatory on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Road Trip to Kitt Peak!!!
Entrance to Kitt Peak
The End? Nope!
Towards the end of the summer, we all focused more on finishing our extended abstracts and deadline for our poster session. We worked hard to get to this point, so now it was time to showcase what we did!
The summer went by very quickly, and before we knew it we were done. We had completed our projects and gained more knowledge of our disciplines and shared incredible experiences with each other. I found a new family, and to say I miss them is a huge understatement.
I think that by having an open mind to new experiences is essential if you want to grow as a person. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, even if its out of your comfort zone seizing opportunities for growth is never a bad idea, and I am grateful to God that I decided to participate in this program. So much so that I applied to the University of Arizona to finish my degree, and hopefully in the future apply to graduate school to earn my PhD. CIAN has opened many doors for me, and because of this program I will be attending the SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) conference in Los Angeles to present research, and look for graduate programs. I have also applied to the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in GEO REU to attend the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in San Francisco in December. All with the help of CIAN’s very own Amee Hennig. I’ll always remember this summer, and in the future I hope to use my degree to give back to my tribe, and other native communities, through education and spiritual guidance.
Solianna is in her last semester as an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida. This past summer, Solianna participated in the Integrated Optics for Undergraduate Native Americans (IOU-NA) program. She belongs to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and she is majoring in Chemistry. She believes one day she will go to graduate school and attain a PhD in Chemistry or a Chemistry related field. Currently, she is taking classes at the University of Arizona, and is an intern in the department of Atmospheric Sciences thanks to the University of Arizona’s NASA Space Grant internship.