Department of Energy

Talking STEM with the Navajo Nation: STEM-sation Day

March 29, 2018

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Visiting the STEM-station booths.
Visiting the STEM-station booths.
Office of Legacy Management

An important part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management’s (LM) mission is to partner with tribal communities within the Navajo Nation. LM participated in “STEM-sation Day” at Shiprock High School in New Mexico, on Thursday, March 14, 2018, to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies and careers.

Over 580 ninth through twelfth grade science students participated in the event. There were fifteen different tribal and federal agencies and programs that took part in the event to educate Navajo science students, using hands-on activities that promote STEM learning. The event was organized by the Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation (AML)/Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Program and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company. 

“This was a great opportunity for our students and organizations to meet some young people and get them interested in STEM careers, majors, and STEM projects. It was a win-win for everybody,” stated John Tohtsoni Jr., Shiprock High School principal. He added that this is the first partnership the high school has had with Navajo AML/UMTRA and all the event locations were selected because of the nearby former uranium mill tailings sites.

Students also received information related to the nearby Shiprock Disposal site. They were given an overview of the site’s disposal cell that encapsulates low-level radioactive material generated from uranium milling operations between 1954 and 1968. When operating, the mill used leaching processes to separate uranium from crushed ore. The “tailings” left behind are the radioactive material that was placed in the disposal cell. Students also learned about an evaporation pond and LM activities to clean contaminated groundwater using extraction wells.

The site was remediated under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 Title I program. LM performs long-term surveillance and maintenance at the site, working closely with the Navajo AML/UMTRA Program under a cooperative agreement. LM’s mission is to fulfill DOE’s post-closure responsibilities and ensure the future protection of human health and the environment. For more information about LM, please visit https://www.energy.gov/lm/office-legacy-management.

LM will participate in another “STEM-sation Day” event scheduled for April 5, 2018, at the Greyhills High School in Tuba City, Arizona.