Shining Examples of American Indian Graduate Student Success

The 2017 solar eclipse got me to thinking about the word eclipse. As a noun, the word eclipse is certainly fascinating especially when one is anticipating the spectacle of a total solar eclipse. However, as a verb the word eclipse is something altogether different. In fact, one could argue that collegiate success stories of Indigenous Americans are often eclipsed by negative stereotypes, deficit views, and failure-focused narratives. I am here to tell you that these tired stereotypes, views, and narratives are changing as quickly as the moon passes in front of the sun. And, I have evidence!

The underlying foundational vision of Indigenous Education, Inc. is to support American Indian and Alaska Native student success. As a result, the Cobell Graduate Summer Research Fellowship was developed to help support graduate students during their summer months – a critical yet often overlooked period of a graduate student’s academic year. As we complete this funding cycle for our inaugural 2017 Summer Fellowship we wanted to share with you highlights of our five outstanding Summer Fellows and their incredible research projects. We hope their stories help to inspire you as much as they have us. Our 2018 Cobell Summer Graduate Research Fellowship application cycle opens September 1, 2017 and we hope you or someone you know may be interested in this unique opportunity to shine!


Colin Ben (Navajo)

Doctoral Student


University of Utah

Colin’s research focuses on the decision-making factors and experiences that influence enrollment and persistence in graduate school for Navajo students. Colin says his research study, “…uses a Critical Indigenous Research Methodology and is driven by an Indigenous community’s needs and makes contributions to the improvement of the community’s situation.”

Colin says that receiving the Fellowship allowed him to purchase equipment and supplies, supplement housing expenses, and helped out with childcare support costs. As a result, Colin was able to direct his time and energy to dissertation research. Colin’s top two tips for successfully navigating graduate school, include: 1) create a realistic timeline of your research and writing timeline with clear benchmarks; and 2) make sure to share your timeline with a trusted mentor who can check in with you to ensure accountability and can provide you with constructive feedback on your work.


Justin Kaye (Navajo)

Masters Student

Biomedical Sciences

University of Arizona

As an aspiring scientist, Justin’s research focuses on finding novel gene-cardiovascular drug pairs that will help improve the safety and efficacy of genotype-guided dosing. Justin says that the summer fellowship allowed him to focus his time on enhancing his skills in bioinformatics analysis. In looking to the future, Justin shared that he is “committed to extend [his] research findings to improve the treatment outcomes for patients, particularly from undeserved communities. There is an increasing concern that advances in precision/personalized medicine will widen the inequality gap in care if racial/ethnic representation in clinical studies is not met. [He] plans to use the skills [he] gained as a research fellow to close this gap and improve treatments for [his] community and Indian Country.”

The results of Justin’s statistical analysis may reveal important variants in candidate genes on dose requirements that can be used to improve clinical therapy. With support from the Cobell Fellowship, Justin has been able to spend more time on his research project this summer. In sharing advice for future graduate students, Justin suggests seeking advice and guidance from mentors and the professionals who are currently working in the area of the student’s interest.


Sandra Littletree (Navajo)

Doctoral Student

Library Science

University of Washington

Sandra’s dissertation research traces the history and development of tribal libraries in the context of U.S. federal involvement, including the impact of the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and other federal funding. Sandra’s research aims to develop a deep understanding of the early vision of tribal libraries and how they have developed to today. Upon receiving the Fellowship support, Sandra was able to offset costs associated with “travel to many of the 19 New Mexico tribal libraries and to visit the archives of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) records at the University of Michigan.” Sandra adds that, “New Mexico’s tribal libraries were the first in the country to be developed systematically during the self-determination era. New Mexico has been cited by all of my interviewees, as well as in the literature, as an important site for tribal library development and as a model state for current tribal library support. The NCLIS records hold materials relating to the 1979 White House Pre-Conference on American Indian Library Services on or Near Reservations, as well as other national projects focused on Native American library services through 1996.” Access to the archival material is helping Sandra to tell a more complete story about the development of tribal libraries.

Sandra’s advice for current and aspiring graduate students is to, “consider ways that you can give back with your research. You don’t have to wait until your dissertation is completed. Listen to the needs and concerns of your community, and respond if you can through your research or other appropriate means. Think about how you can build relationships while you research.”


Elizabeth Luger (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians)

Doctoral Student


University of North Dakota

Elizabeth’s research focuses on understanding potential roadblocks to American Indian college students’ academic success. Elizabeth says the Fellowship funding helped her to supplement financial support her family needed in order to be able to put her daughters in daycare. Elizabeth said that, the “Fellowship allowed me to work on my academics, something I could not have done nearly as efficiently had I had to watch the children.” The Fellowship also provided Elizabeth to continue to work on her research project as well as enrich her graduate experience as a whole. “My project will undoubtedly be better upon completion because of the support I received from Cobell because of the attention to detail I’ve been able to give to the project.” In sharing advice for other graduate students, Elizabeth simply says, “Keep your eye on the prize, embrace roadblocks, and take it one step at a time.”


Elese Washines (Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation)

Doctoral Student

Mathematics & Statistics

Oregon State University

Elese’s research focuses on understanding the affordances and drawbacks of the Educatory Teacher Performance Assessment to teacher candidates’ knowledge and skills across a variety of teaching contexts. One of the outcomes of her research will be to contribute to a greater understanding of how teacher candidates draw upon their placements in urban schools or rural schools on the outskirts of an American Indian Reservation to complete specific components of the Educatory Teacher Performance Assessment.

As you can see, there’s nothing eclipsing the success of our Summer Fellows! We hope that you, or someone you may know, will consider applying for this outstanding fellowship recognition for the Summer of 2018. Awards from the Cobell Graduate Summer Fellowship Program support American Indian and Alaska Native graduate students with a summer research stipend of $5000 to fund graduate research projects. The award is designed to contribute to further the student’s MA/MS or Ph.D. dissertation research.  Students must partner with a faculty adviser to endorse the proposal and supervise the work.  Priority is given to Ph.D. level applicants. For more information about this exciting new opportunity, please visit after September 1, 2017 to apply or email