Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sat, June 25

NAU public health program for high school students brings focus to Native American culture

The Indigenous Summer Enhancement Program, (ISEP), developed by Northern Arizona University and Diné College is guiding Diné youth toward careers in public health with a focus on culture. (Photo/NAU Public Health program)

The Indigenous Summer Enhancement Program, (ISEP), developed by Northern Arizona University and Diné College is guiding Diné youth toward careers in public health with a focus on culture. (Photo/NAU Public Health program)

A one-week summer training program, Indigenous Summer Enhancement Program, (ISEP), developed by Northern Arizona University and Diné College is helping to guide and develop Native American high school students toward a career in public health.

The findings and success of the program can be found in a recent publication from researchers from NAU and Diné College titled “Engaging Native American High School Students in Public Health Career Preparation Through the Indigenous Summer Enhancement Program.”

It is not the only program geared toward developing future public health leaders through a partnership between Northern Arizona University and Diné College.

In 2016, Diné College partnered with Northern Arizona University to develop the Navajo Native American Research Center for Health (NARCH) Partnership funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Since then, the Navajo NARCH Partnership has established three high school programs: ISEP, academic year internships, and a dual credit program for students interested in public health from local high schools to earn credit at Diné College.

They also started a Bachelor of Science in Public Health Program for students entering Diné College with an associate’s degree, and they offer a 10-week Summer Research Enhancement Program (SREP)––a program that began 15 years ago prior to the Navajo NARCH Partnership with NAU.

“Successfully guiding Diné youth toward health and public health professions begins with two important ideas — start students in a program in high school and cultivate in them a love and understanding of their own cultural, strength-based assets,” a press release from NAU said.

Nicolette Teufel-Shone, associate director for the Center for Health Equity Research (CHER), and professor in NAU Department of Health Sciences, said the Navajo NARCH partnership team has been creative and innovative in ways to engage students at the high school and college levels to understand the scope, role and impact of public health.

“Through these programs, students with an interest in biological or social sciences can find a fit in public health,” she said. “That’s the goal of NARCH — to build the Navajo Nation public health workforce — and it starts with sparking an interest in a career unfamiliar to most students.”

One of the strengths of the program was its focus on culture. ISEP students felt they learned how to advocate for the health of their community while also gaining insight into those same communities.

“Students also said they learned resilience, and that the program instilled in them a knowledge that they could overcome difficult obstacles,” the research team who examined the results of the study into the program said.

The ISEP team introduced the Hózhó Resilience model consisting of three main elements: harmony in relationships, respect and spirituality to design their public health prevention strategies.

Kalvina Belin, coordinator and ISEP instructor, said just like Diné College, the program incorporates the Diné Educational Philosophy (DEP), a Navajo conceptual framework in to what the students are taught.

“Not only does DEP represent the Diné traditional living system, but it also serves as a guide for students when they’re working on their research project and career mapping,” she said.

Belin said that the program chooses public health guest speakers who are actively working to promote health within Native communities to work with the students.

“Most of the speakers are from the tribal community as well, so they understand the unique challenges that community members face and the barriers they experience when navigating Western, academic institutions as a student,” she said.

Surveys of the students said they appreciated program staff, fellow students, peer mentors and the culturally relevant learning experiences in both virtual and in-person learning environments.

And the study pointed to how assistance from peer mentors, exposure to the guest speakers who are already public health leaders in their communities and an opportunity to develop a digital storytelling project all were strengths of the program.

Shawndeena George, NAU Master of Public Health, Indigenous Health student, said the most enlightening part of the program for her was when the participants’ families have an opportunity to view the digital stories.

“They really got to see what their children were doing the past week –– what they learned,” George said. “They [digital stories] are very personal, and they really show the kind of information that ISEP was able to show them.”

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