More than 600 high school students participated in a STEM-sation event with the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management and partners at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, Arizona, on April 13.

Miss Navajo Nation group photo

Back row, left to right: Former Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez; LM Site Manager Joni Tallbull; Miss Navajo Nation Valentina Clitso; LMS Navajo Nation Outreach Coordinator Kayla Bia; and LM STEM Coordinator Shawn Montgomery. 

Front row, left to right: LMS Hydrologist Katie McLain; LMS Hydrologist Stacy Trowbridge; and LMS Navajo Nation Public Affairs Specialist Lillie Lane.

LM co-sponsored the event with Miss Navajo Nation Valentina Clitso, Navajo Transitional Energy Company, Diné College Land Grant Office, Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Department, Arizona Public Service, and BHP.

Clitso is from Forest Lake on Black Mesa. She is an alumna of Monument Valley High School.

Clitso opened the event with a traditional Navajo greeting and blessing, and she expressed her excitement for bringing an event focused on STEM career fields to her alma mater. She told the students she always wanted something like this event for the students, so they would be aware of careers in the mining and science fields.

She advised students to open their hearts and minds and to ask questions of the many professionals in attendance. When she graduated high school, she left the Black Mesa area to attend Arizona State University, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering.

In the fall of 2021, Clitso applied to participate in the Miss Navajo Nation pageant during the annual Navajo Nation fair. Candidates must know how to provide for their families, speak the Navajo language and share a Navajo skill or talent. Clitso shared traditional cultural stories and wore traditional Navajo clothing. Dressed in a dark red outfit, traditional moccasins with buckskin wrappings and a silver crown embedded with turquoise stones, she reminded high school students that they have a lot of opportunities for higher education.

“I want the best for each and every one of you,” she said.

LM Physical Scientist Joni Tallbull also spoke at the event, expressing joy in honoring Miss Navajo Nation and Monument Valley High School students. Tallbull is from Shiprock, New Mexico, and she attended college in California, graduating with a physics degree. After college, Tallbull returned to her hometown and worked with the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation program. She is currently the Shiprock, New Mexico, Disposal Site manager, where she monitors remediation activities.

Former Navajo Nation president and fellow Monument Valley High School graduate Jonathan Nez spoke with students about Navajo peoples’ stories of perseverance in overcoming times of hardship.

Nez told the story of the “Long Walk of the Navajo” in the 1860s, during which Navajo people were forced to march to Bosque Redondo in southern New Mexico, where about 20,000 Navajo people lived with hunger, diseases, and without shelter.

“Many died,” he said. “The U.S. government wanted to move the Navajo people elsewhere; however, Navajo leaders insisted on returning to their homes and formed the Navajo Treaty of 1868 with the U.S. government.”

Nez illustrated that while there are many hardships past and present, the Navajo people are resilient. He emphasized that every student has the potential to overcome and carry on no matter the difficulties.

In his closing remarks, Nez said, “the future is bright,” and students have the power within them to learn, set, and follow their goals, and become the best at whatever they pursue. He urged young people to return home to make a difference in their communities.

STEM-Sation events include professional organizations and agencies that share career and professional expertise and knowledge, educational opportunities, and resources with students on and near the Navajo Nation. STEM-Sation events support students in learning about science, technology, engineering, and math to solve current and future challenges.