UA, Diné College Receive $500K USDA Grant To Train Navajo Water Scientists

By Rocio Hernandez
Published: Monday, June 7, 2021 - 5:15am

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Diné College student collects water sample
Shazia Hakim
A research student from Dine College Tuba City collecting water samples for microbial analysis.

The University of Arizona and the Navajo Nation’s Diné College were awarded a $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for training and research on water scarcity and challenges on the reservation. 

Shazia Hakim, one of the Diné College professors involved with the three-year program, said water scarcity is a big issue for the Navajo Nation. Thousands of households don't have running water so instead they have to haul water.

"There are lots of wells here, but all these wells are not of them are well-maintained," Hakim said. "Some of them have been closed just because of uranium contamination."

Shazia Hakim
Shazia Hakim
Diné College Professor Shazia Hakim poses for a photo in her microbiology lab.

The colleges are hoping to combat these issues through this grant by providing Diné students with on-the-spot training in areas such as chemical and microbial water analysis as well as advanced water and wastewater treatment. 

“They will be learning the basic technique, how to analyze water both for microorganisms and the chemicals, but also the wastewater: How we can treat that waste water and make it more usable to face the drought," Hakim said. 

Most scientists working in the water-related fields, including Hakim, are not Native Americans, she said, but the schools are hoping to change that through this project. 

"They are the ones who know what the problem is, and they are the ones who can better fight with the problem and find better solutions," Hakim said. 

Navajo scientists also have a better understanding of their community's needs and understand the cultural importance and significance of water in ways that outsiders might not be able to, she added. 

Each year, six Diné College juniors will be trained through a 10-week internship, and two seniors will be given the opportunity to work alongside Hakim as research assistants.

The first cohort will begin virtually this fall, with plans to provide in-person opportunities at both land-grant institutions in the program’s second and third year. 

Recruitment for the fall 2021 internship will begin soon. Interested students are advised to check the college's website and Facebook page for upcoming announcements. 

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