Navajo Technical University creating engineering and manufacturing opportunities on Navajo Nation | Navajo-Hopi Observer

Navajo Technical University creating engineering and manufacturing opportunities on Navajo Nation | Navajo-Hopi Observer

CROWNPOINT, NM — On a extensive reservation of desert and mountains, a location in which 30 to 40 percent of residents do not have working drinking water, Navajo Specialized University is home to arguably the best innovative production lab in New Mexico, apart from the Los Alamos and Sandia nationwide protection laboratories.

There, in a 5,500-sq.-foot steel creating recognized as the fabrication lab, pupils find out to operate cutting-edge producing and analytical products and perform investigate alongside school and graduate students from much larger universities who are drawn to the fabrication lab’s distinctive capabilities and the abilities of Navajo Tech’s employees and students. By this lab and associated diploma systems, Navajo Tech is growing obtain to engineering fields for Native People in america, creating vital substantial-tech capacity for the Navajo Country, and shifting the financial outlook for the people of graduates employed by the lab, allowing them to keep near to property without compromising their ambition.

When a number of Tribal faculties and universities (TCUs) provide affiliate degrees in engineering, only Navajo Tech provides engineering bachelor’s degrees to day. But the university’s good results demonstrates 1 variety of pathway—among several that are needed—to make careers in science available to additional Native American learners.

Nationally, a mere 360 American Indian or Alaska Indigenous students acquired bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2018, a variety that scarcely budged from the 345 recipients who acquired levels a 10 years before. In a promptly escalating discipline, that implies that American Indian and Alaska Native representation amid B.A. recipients in engineering dropped from .5 p.c to just .3 {e3fa8c93bbc40c5a69d9feca38dfe7b99f2900dad9038a568cd0f4101441c3f9}.

The latest graduates and pupils from Navajo Tech have been employed for jobs and internships with an array of top rated businesses, such as NASA, Los Alamos Nationwide Lab, Sandia Nationwide Laboratories, Intel, and contractors for NASA and Marshall House Flight Center.

Still while Navajo Tech is a person of the largest Tribal colleges, only a handful of its pupils get paid levels or credentials in STEM fields each year—far fewer than the college would like. This condition is rooted in the deficiency of funding accessible for Tribal colleges, as effectively as the battle for higher education success confronted by students who increase up in rural communities with superior poverty.

The hope is that the lab will encourage a new era of long term Navajo engineers and scientists.

Marcie Vandever is a 2022 graduate now doing the job in New Mexico at an outpost of the Department of Energy’s Kansas Town National Safety Campus. Soon after getting additional working experience, she wants to return residence to instruct on the Navajo Country. In simple fact, looking at Navajo Tech encourage young individuals is what led her to enroll at the college soon after she was hired a single summertime to help with a 3D printing camp run by the fabrication lab.

“These kids, their pleasure, the shock and shock of what they made, this is why I do what I do,” she reported.


A university rises in the desert

Navajo Tech’s key campus is found two hrs northwest of Albuquerque in Crownpoint, New Mexico, a significant-desert town of 3,000 persons. What would grow to be the college was started as the Navajo Expertise Center in 1979, conceptualized as a vocational faculty that complemented the educational offerings at Diné College, which the Navajo Country experienced proven a decade previously as the initially Tribal faculty in the country—two several hours away and above condition strains in Arizona.

In excess of time, the expertise center grew into a school, as it additional degree programs though keeping an emphasis on workforce-oriented offerings, building the Navajo Nation—which has the most significant reservation in the United States—unique right now between American Indian nations in owning two Tribal schools provide its men and women. Now, Navajo Tech is nevertheless developing the Diné tradition, language, and management application is producing what would be its initial doctoral software. (“Diné” is what the Navajo men and women connect with them selves in the Diné language.)

Amongst the university’s strengths are an award-winning culinary arts method that assisted cater the 2002 Winter season Olympics in Salt Lake Metropolis and a veterinary technician program that prepares learners to be the equal of nurses in veterinary care or go on to develop into veterinarians—especially significant in this neighborhood, in which sheep are a staple of life and the Tribal government leases land to cattle ranchers. And in October 2022, Navajo Tech broke ground on a new environmental lab in Chinle, Arizona, that will aid efforts to clean up up poisonous uranium mining websites that have devastated the Navajo people for generations, top to significant fees of most cancers and contaminating 85 p.c of households right now.

Serving a distant reservation with weak world-wide-web entry, Navajo Tech had to be ingenious when COVID-19 very first hit—particularly for the reason that in the early days, the Navajo Nation had the worst outbreak in the place. For instance, the college certain the Tribal government to permit it broadcast wi-fi world-wide-web in excess of added towers, and it introduced a shipping and delivery assistance for printed research that some likened to the Pony Express.

3D printers and Indigenous strategies

H. Scott Halliday, a 59-calendar year-aged previous mason from Maine, took a occupation at Navajo Tech two many years in the past operating a certification application in laptop or computer-aided drafting. It’s honest to say that the achievement of the Heart for Innovative Manufacturing, which he now directs—often although sporting a tie-dye lab coat—has something to do with his knack for grant creating and, on a further level, his uncompromising perception in what American Indian pupils must have obtainable to them.

“Because you improve up on a reservation doesn’t imply you [shouldn’t] get the exact same options as a person who goes to Penn Condition or Texas Tech,” he explained.

Halliday leverages each grant for the subsequent and retains governing administration funders and corporate and philanthropic donors speedy to their commitments to supporting minority-serving establishments, which have a lengthy legacy of inadequate funding.

Navajo Tech’s work in engineering and state-of-the-art production grew out of an initiative involving NASA and the American Indian Higher Instruction Consortium, which aided fund the generation of the fabrication lab, with assist from the National Science Basis. The university now has Bachelor of Science degree courses in four engineering disciplines and two related Bachelor of Used Science diploma courses, such as 1 in state-of-the-art manufacturing engineering technology. These are in addition to an array of affiliate degree and certification plans in relevant fields. Notably, in 2015, Navajo Tech’s electrical and industrial engineering bachelor’s diploma systems acquired ABET accreditation, which is noticed as a gold standard, a should for several major-flight companies when considering students for work or internships.

The fabrication lab specializes in additive manufacturing—3D printing, if you will—and its gear contains a rare metal additive production machine for which a employees member experienced to bear 7 months of education in Nebraska to use. The lab also boasts analytical gear this sort of as CT scanners and a powder analyzer, and it not long ago obtained an award from the U.S. Department of Defense for a new scanning electron microscope.

Halliday’s aim is for college students to stick to their curiosity and find out their capabilities and passions as they do, iterating around and above, a method that is natural to equally STEM inquiry and Indigenous strategies to education and learning.

Repeated investigation partners at the lab contain Drexel University, the College of Nebraska, and New Mexico State University, wherever researchers have identified each tools and assessment techniques in the fabrication lab that they deficiency on their have campuses. Past calendar year, for case in point, the lab hosted a summer time workshop for undergrads from Navajo Tech, New Mexico Condition College, and Prairie See A&M University—a historically Black university in Texas.

As amazing as the lab is, having said that, personnel and learners nonetheless operate into some of the agonizing realities of daily life at a TCU. Halliday has uncovered that grant funding is substantially extra commonly available for gear than men and women grants hardly ever address more than a portion of the wage of a school or employees member. That, paired with a lack of state funding and lower enrollment quantities, has manufactured it incredibly tough for the establishment to hire the staff members that would support it comprehend its targets, which is specifically demanding in fields these types of as engineering, in which specialised faculty are vital to making a competitive diploma system.

Minimal staffing indicates the college just cannot hold the fabrication lab open into the night, as universities normally do, ensuing in learners often getting to hold out for a turn on the devices they call for.


Demystifying a superior-tech discipline

Vandever, the 2022 graduate performing for the Kansas Town Nationwide Safety Campus, is a 40-year-previous mom of two who had taught engineering and carried out IT get the job done in universities right before enrolling at Navajo Tech. Previous spring, she acquired a double major in industrial engineering and sophisticated manufacturing technological know-how. She also interned in the fabrication lab, the place she was equipped to participate in analysis, collaborate with school and college students from other universities, and educate instructors on how to use machines.

She began to realize her own capabilities when she would go property at the stop of the working day and feel, “Whoa, I can preserve up, I can realize what they are talking about.”

A couple of many years back, Vandever did a Valentine’s Day project X-raying and analyzing the composition of chocolate bars, which gets at the kind of industrial engineering difficulties involved in producing a food items solution way too a lot of air bubbles may well depart the purchaser upset, although also dense a chocolate bar is high-priced for the corporation. She was shocked to locate that the chocolate from a $1 assortment was denser—and thus most likely improved quality—than an pricey manufacturer.

For her capstone undertaking, Vandever developed two variations of a stainless steel screening object, identified as a “dog bone” mainly because of its condition. Making use of the metal additive production device, she printed 1 as close as possible to the doggy bone form, then built the other by printing a block of steel prior to slicing out the pet bone with a further equipment. At the stop, Vandever compared the composition and power of both of those objects. This kind of study is encouraging build prospects for 3D printing innovation in producing. Vandever’s poster about the venture gained second place at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s national meeting in Phoenix in 2021.

Vandever desires to attain encounter in the discipline that she can ultimately carry property to train on the Navajo Country, and she’s also working toward her master’s degree from New Mexico State College.

When she worked in the fabrication lab and led tours for high university students, she would often see that learners were intimidated by the machinery. She would issue out that standard crafts such as silversmithing, weaving, or carving kachina dolls out of wood are all analogous to get the job done done in the lab, which is shaping objects with resources, albeit much more modern types.

She also likes to notice that Navajo citizens could be improved prepared for engineering than they may feel.

“Manufacturing is a big prospect for us as Navajo folks. For people today who grew up in pretty secluded spots, I usually assume of it as, hey, we’re organic engineers,” she reported. “People who dwell in rural locations, they make do with what they have. If a little something breaks, they’re going to occur up with a way to resolve what they have.”

Far more neighborhood career options are required

Navajo Tech officers have numerous programs to continue developing out their state-of-the-art production and engineering programming. To allow the lab’s additional expansion, they hope to crack ground in the spring on a new 6,000-sq.-foot making, paid out for with $1 million in federal financial development funding and $1.5 million from the Navajo Country. Also in the is effective are apprenticeship plans with lover companies and a Ph.D. system envisioned to begin with as a joint method with the University of New Mexico. Officers want Navajo Tech to be a hub for graduates of other TCUs to transfer to and generate their bachelor’s or graduate degree in engineering and relevant fields.

The college is also performing on spinning off a enterprise device to acquire on compensated contracting work, which could contain production a variety of products, this kind of as prosthetic units or modest wind turbines. And officers would like to see some of their graduates go out and develop their possess companies.

All of these chances are fueling Adriane Tenequer’s hope for the future—for each her individual vocation and all those of the pupils coming up driving her. Tenequer, who acquired her bachelor’s diploma in industrial engineering in 2019, is a person of the 4 graduates who workers the fabrication lab, and she is also operating remotely on her master’s degree at New Mexico State University—something which is only doable because of the equipment readily available in the lab. She anticipates currently being ready to make her doctorate the very same way.

Once she finishes graduate faculty, Tenequer could see herself being at Navajo Tech, doing the job on the new small business device underneath enhancement, or commencing her have regional business enterprise. She is also passionate about encouraging construct equivalent opportunities for other Navajo Tech graduates, who, in the previous, have too often had to go away the Navajo Country in get to go after their career.

“[At Navajo Tech], they definitely drive you to go out into the globe, get your knowledge, and then occur back again. And when pupils do that, they have a tendency to go absent and never appear back. Or if they do, then it’s 10 to 15 many years from now,” reported the 38-12 months-outdated mom of two. “What I want to do is have them, as shortly as they graduate, commence offering back again to the community—start supplying items that it’s possible everybody else has but the Navajo Nation itself does not have.”

This story was at first posted by The Middle for American Development.