Virgil Masayesva Memorial:

US EPA - TAMS Center
4220 S Maryland Parkway Bldg D
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Phone: 702-784-8264
Fax: 702-784-8201

Virgil Masayesva Memorial

The Virgil Masayesva Native American Environmental Education Scholarship Fund

Click on a year below to view scholarship recipient(s) from that year.

2021 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Marissa Mares

Marissa Mares Marissa is from Shiprock, New Mexico and is currently attending Northern Arizona University as a graduate student in the Sustainable Communities program. Her research focuses on investigating the uranium contamination found in the plant community that have been disturbed by uranium mining and the resulting abandoned uranium mines in Cove, Arizona. Moving forward she hopes to continue her education to become a botanist, with the skills she is learning now and will build on in the future, she hopes that this research will contribute to the reclamation and phytoremediation efforts on the Navajo Nation.

Brandee Keyonnie

Brandee Keyonnie Brandee Keyonnie, a current Junior at Northern Arizona University, is studying towards a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Chemistry and a minor in Sustainability. After earning a bachelor's degree in this field she plans to continue at Northern Arizona University to earn a master's degree in Environmental Science. Her ultimate goal is to help transition the Navajo Nation to receive their energy through renewable resources (wind,solar, and biomass) rather than non renewable resources (oil, coal, natural gases, and nuclear) so that Navajo Nation is creating less pollution and is no longer sending less workers into mines where they are exposed to harmful chemicals. Brandee plans to work in a field environment and test soil and water around the Navajo Nation and ensure it is safe for the people, livestock, plants, and food that they grow. She wants to able to help protect the people of the Navajo Nation and our Mother Earth.

Priscilla Kee

Priscilla Kee Priscilla is a member of the Navajo Tribe. She is originally from Klagetoh, AZ. She is of the Big Water clan born for the Honey Combed Rock People Clan. She is currently pursuing her American Indigenous Studies, Indian Country Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Science degree. Priscilla has an interest in both tribal government as well as Federal Indian Law. She hopes to one day become an advocate or a consultant with organizations to educate others about the legal system. Ms. Kee has a great interest in understanding the tribal government and hopes to one day return to her community where she can be a voice for her people, especially, the Dine Elders. After earning her Bachelor of Science degree, Ms. Kee would like to enter a Master’s Program and perhaps obtain a Law in Degree, eventually.

Jared Begay

Jared Begay Jared Begay is a young Navajo man, who resides in a small rural town called Tsaile, AZ, in the heart of the Navajo Nation. He believes his agricultural background and a strong Navajo-cultural compassion passed down to him by his family for the sacred life of a tree and the connection it shares with Mother Earth has carved a deep passion for him to be a steward of the forest lands and to pursue a degree in Forestry at the Northern University of Arizona. Once he earns his Bachelor’s degree in Forestry, he will apply for a job as a Restoration Ecologist under the Navajo Nation Forestry Department. His goal after he gets his degree is to write a grant to help fund a Forest / Land & Range conservation plan to help maintain the forested areas, and the rangelands of the Navajo communities.

2020 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Siigrid Lii’bilNaghahi

Siigrid Lii’bilNaghahi Siigrid a member of the Navajo tribe, is currently attending her sophomore year at Northern Arizona University (NAU). At NAU, she majors in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Studio Arts. After earning a bachelor’s degree, she plans on continuing her education at the University of Pennsylvania to earn a medical degree in Orthopedic Surgery. Her ultimate goal is to improve the medical care and the quality of hospitals in Native American communities.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan Michael is a student at Northern Arizona University (NAU) with a focus on wildlife management and forest management. With a decade of experience in firefighting, he brings a knowledge of eye-witness accounts of the effects of wildfires on different species, animals, and soil, as well as the environment in general. His vision emphasizes the environment with a connection and responsibility as a Native American to protect Mother Earth.

Tisheena S. Talk

Tisheena Talk Tisheena is a Navajo from Shiprock, New Mexico. She is currently attending Northern Arizona University (NAU) on the Flagstaff, Arizona campus. At NAU, she majors in Biology with a Wildlife Management emphasis. In the future, she would like to assist in protecting natural resources on the Navajo Nation. Her vision includes that the Navajo Nation is a safe place to reside – with fresh air quality, healthy plant life and sufficient or abundant clean water resources for all living Beings. In her career, she plans to apply Tribal Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as part of her stewardship.

Shanya Whitehorse

Shanya Whitehorse Shanya comes from Aneth, Utah, the northern part of the Navajo Nation. She is a Environmental Engineer major at Northern Arizona University (NAU). Her goal of becoming an engineer came from living on the reservation where oil drilling is an economic support and a part of everyday life, as her grandparents and community struggled from contaminated soil, water and air daily. This has motivated her to get her degree to protect not only her community, but Indian Country from the environmental effects such as pollution to improve the environmental quality.

2016 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Josephine Louise Kamkoff

Josephine Louise Kamkoff Josie is of Lummi and Yupik descent. Born in Anchorage, Alaska, she spent her school years in Alaska, and her summers in Lummi, Washington. She graduated for the Northwest Indian College with a Bachelor’s of Science-Native Environmental Science in June, 2016. From there, she began as a Master’s of Professional Science-Climate Science and Solutions major at Northern Arizona University. She will graduate spring semester, 2018.

Josie has broad experience in environmental science and education. She has monitored watershed restoration tree growth rate, assisted in planning wetlands restoration structure, assisted in soil survey mapping, performed marine biotoxin research, calculated CO2 uptake in restored wetlands, performed administrative work for a Tribal AmeriCorp program, done science educational outreach in science fields for primary education, and tutored college students in mathematics and sciences. Her experience as a volunteer, federal or tribal employee, and work in schools give her a foundation that allows for communicating science to tribal people, and tradition and culture to the scientific community.

Josie’s heritage of Lummi and Yupik descent have given her understanding of the need for multi-culture and diversity. Many solutions to life problems have been presented from traditional values instilled by her grandmothers and families from her tribal communities. She recognized similar values in the schools environmental and climate science and pursued those studies. She plans to use her Climate Science and Solutions degree to further improve people’s ability to protect and preserve the natural world by reducing the rate of climate change.

Chad Brown

Chad Brown Chad Brown hails from the proud tribes of Santo Domingo Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, and the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. He graduated high school from Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, NM. He is currently attending Northern Arizona University and entered in their distinguished Bachelor of Science program in Forestry. In the bachelors forestry program he is focused on obtaining a Fire Ecology and Management certificate. Chad is a non-traditional student and had worked full time for the Santa Clara Pueblo Forestry Department. Working for the tribe has fueled his decision to return to education after realizing his passion for environmental and forest stewardship. He is also a student trainee (forestry) for the BIA TREES Pathways program, which provides him a means to work for Indian country after graduation.

Organizations and clubs Chad is associated with at NAU are the Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE), Forestry Club, and the Logging Sports team. Participation on his logging sports team has earned him 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards in several events at two competitions he has attended. At these competitions he has helped earn both 3rd at the University of Montana and recently a 1st place overall team award at Cal Poly State University.

His overall goal is to continue his career in Forestry that involves: teaching the importance of maintaining the health and vigor of the forest to my community, developing cultural appreciation and identity to our forests, writing grants and securing funding for environmental stewardship, writing silviculture prescriptions, and participating in professional restoration efforts. All these skills he wishes to bring back to his tribe. He strives to one day become a silviculturist for his tribe to fulfill the many responsibilities as a steward of the forest.

Riley Smith

Riley Smith Riley Smith is a graduate student in the biology program at Northern Arizona University. She is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California and is Shoshone from the Shoshone-Bannock Nation at Fort Hall. Riley graduated from San Francisco State University with a double major in ecology (B.S.) and Native American Studies (B.A.). In 2014, Riley became a student at NAU to pursue a degree in environmental health.

Currently, Riley’s studies focus on water quality, ecotoxicology, and environmental endocrinology. In the graduate program, she focuses on how local water contaminants, like waste water effluents, pesticides, and heavy metals, may act as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that affect health outcomes. Her interests lie in learning about how natural or synthetic chemicals impact wildlife and community health; she is also really interested in learning about Indigenous solutions to health issues from toxins. To work toward solutions, it is important to support the restoration of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and incorporate the healthy practices of TEK from local Indigenous peoples.

To learn more about the possible threats and solutions for chemical exposures in Tribal communities, Riley has worked with ITEP’s Tribal Waste and Response Assistance Program (TWRAP). Through this experience, she has participated in community outreach, professional development trainings, and conferences that center on hazardous waste education, assessments, and solutions for Tribes. She assisted in editing the National Tribal Toxics Council’s report, “Understanding Tribal Exposures to Toxics,” which assessed chemical exposure risks that exist through Tribal life-ways. She has learned a lot from her experiences at ITEP and NAU and strives to continue to support community health and cultural preservation in Native communities.

Darrien Benally

Darrien Benally My name is Darrien Benally, I am a member of the Navajo tribe. I was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona. I transferred to NAU from Coconino Community College to peruse a bachelor’s of science degree in Applied Indigenous Studies with a minor in Environmental Sustainability.

Currently I am a sophomore, I hope to become an Environmental Educator when I am graduated. It is important to educate Native Americans tribes’ people on the effects of climate change as well as how to best adapt for their environment. The protection of natural resources for Native American tribes is imperative to educate on because there is a need to protect water rights, and the rights to gather as well as where to gather herbal medicines.

Currently I do a lot of work involving mental health with a group called Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) located in Flagstaff, AZ. I believe it is important to understand the dynamic issues Native American tribes face today. Mental health, spiritual health, physical health, and social wellness are all interconnected. To preserve our overall health, we need to take care of our environment which sustains various forms of life, from the water we drink to the food we consume. As indigenous peoples, it is important that we are educated using our own traditional ecological knowledge to understand climate change and work towards building more sustainable communities by combining western knowledge with traditional knowledge.

2015 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Mariah Tanay Ashley

Mariah Tanay Ashley Mariah is a member of the Navajo Nation from Chichiltah, New Mexico. She graduated high school in 2010 from Santa Rita in Tucson, Arizona. She then attended Dine’ College in Tsaile, Arizona and received an Associate of Science (A.S.) Degree in 2013. From there she transferred to Northern Arizona University where she is currently attending and studying Environmental Science with a Geology emphasis. She aspires to graduate in spring of 2016.

Mariah has been involved in numerous community outreach programs such as the Land Grant Office in Tsaile, Shonto Energy Corporation in Kayenta and Rez Refuge in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Among these community involvements, Mariah stresses the importance of cultural significance and environmental sustainability. She believes that incorporating indigenous cultural knowledge with western scientific methods is key to combating today’s environmental issues. Her long-term goal includes returning to the Navajo Nation to help the people and her community create a more sustainable environment for future generations.

Currently, Mariah is a part of NAU’s Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics Lab mentored by Dr. Temuulen “Teki” Sankey. She’s funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF), Undergraduate Research and Mentoring (URM) Program. Much of Mariah’s work has focused on Landsat image processing for snow distribution analysis, Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), and working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in studying erosion rates in the Grand Canyon. Mariah also performs field measurements for the lab’s research projects, while learning and gaining valuable experience with geospatial techniques. Upon graduation, she seeks to attend graduate school and receive a Master’s Degree in Remote Sensing and Geospatial Information Systems (GIS).

More information:

Dawnylle Smith

Dawnylle Smith Dawnylle M. Smith is a Northern Arizona University alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. She is a Diné woman who worked with young Navajo high school students in her hometown of Ganado, Arizona as an educator. Currently, she is attending NAU as a Climate Science and Solutions Professional Science Masters student with an anticipated graduation date of December 2016.

Dawnylle’s career ambitions involve the study of wildlife indicator species to determine the climate change impacts on ecosystems located on Native American reservations. She wishes to effectively communicate climate-related issues to decision makers and indigenous communities with respect to the preservation of traditional knowledge and practices. Collaborations with tribal communities, scientists, government agencies, and research organizations would be of the utmost importance to identify mitigation and adaptation solutions to the consequences of climate change.

Deon Beh

Deon Ben Deon Ben is a member of the Navajo Nation from the community of Tohatchi, NM. He is working on completing his Masters of Science in the school of Environmental Science & Policy with an emphasis on incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) into Navajo community land use planning to address climate challenges and applications.

Deon comes from a long line of ranchers, which has provided him the foundation for his future career goals on working on conservation planning for grazing management in Navajo communities with climate change applications. He plans to return to the Navajo Nation and work in his community and his father’s community on grazing applications that would incorporate TEK to best provide outlet opportunities for their existing stressful grazing conditions. Deon also looks to develop a template curriculum for Navajo ecological knowledge to revitalize historic Navajo teachings surrounding land stewardship.

"My ultimate goal is for communities to include TEK into future grazing practices that would best provide a sufficient outlet to addressing climate challenges while simultaneously providing an avenue for Navajo teachings for future generations in relation to Navajo animal husbandry and grazing practices."

Deon will be completing his MS degree in 2016 and is currently serving on the Tohatchi Community Land Use Planning Committee and is incorporating his educational and TEK studies experience. He plans to begin his political career in the coming years by running for Tohatchi Chapter President and soon to serve his Navajo people by becoming an elected Legislative Council Delegate.

"The importance of address our environmental concerns is overdue and it is eminent that young experienced Native Americans return to their Nations and become practical players in decision making and leadership; we talk about our future in so many components but we have to come to the realization that the future is the present."

Chad Brown

Chad Brown Chad Brown hails from the proud tribes of Santo Domingo Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, and the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. He is a transfer student from New Mexico attending Northern Arizona University (NAU) and is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry. His focus in the forestry program is the Fire Ecology and Management certificate. Organizations and clubs he is associated with are the BIA TREES PATHWAY Program and NAU’s Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE). He is a non-traditional student and has worked full time for the Santa Clara Pueblo Forestry Department for two and a half years prior to attending NAU. Working for a tribal forestry department fueled his decision to return to education after realizing his passion in environmental and forest stewardship. Influences from the leadership in the Santa Clara Pueblo Forestry Department have inspired him to choose his current career and higher education paths.

Mr. Brown’s overall goal is to continue a career in forestry that involves: teaching the importance of maintaining the health and vigor of the forest to Native communities, developing cultural appreciation and identity to our forests, writing grants and securing funding for environmental stewardship, writing silviculture prescriptions, and participating in professional restoration efforts. He wishes to bring back all of these skills to his community one day. An important aspect of his goal is to be able to mentor and guide those who share an interest in the natural sciences and forestry disciplines in the way Santa Clara has done for him.

2013 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Erin O’Keefe

Erin O'Keefe' Erin O'Keefe, a Northern Arizona University (NAU) student, from Gallup, NM is Dine of the Water That Flows Together clan born for the Anishinaabe Eagle clan. She has a BA degree in Applied Indigenous Studies (AIS) and a BS in Communication Studies from NAU, and is currently working on a Master's in Sustainable Communities at NAU.

Erin has demonstrated her interest in supporting tribal environmental issues through a variety of activities, including membership in several student clubs. Erin was a student intern at the Landsward Institute and represented the university as Miss Indian NAU. Student clubs include Connecting Higher Education Indigenously (CHEI) Club, a student organization that serves as a part of the Applied Indigenous Studies (AIS) program, and the Weatherization and Community Building Action Team (WACBAT), which offer education to students interested in helping the environment. Erin has also been a Site Facilitator for the Public Achievement program, which works with high school students at local high schools to address important community environmental issues.

Erin’s educational program and extracurricular activities support one of Erin’s career goals, which is working with Native American youth back on her reservation and educating them in environmental sustainability.

2012 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Alyandra Aday

Alyandra is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. She is majoring in Forestry with a certificate in Wildland Fire Ecology and Management. In her own words, she said "I chose the certificate in Wildland Fire Ecology and Management because I have a strong desire to work with fire in a positive way to help better our forest or just to stop it from harming our tribal land. This is currently my third year in college, my second year in the Forestry program. I will be entering the professional program in the fall of this year.

A few clubs that I am involved in on campus is the Forestry club, the Student Association for Fire Ecology (S.A.F.E), and Native Americans United. I am a dedicated member of each club and currently the treasurer of the Native Americans United club. I am also a member of the Society of American Foresters and the National Society of Leadership and Success here at NAU. I have a strong passion for the outdoors and really enjoy doing all the outdoor recreation. Making a career out of it is something I always wanted to do. I am able to become knowledgeable within the field, enjoy the outdoors, better our forest, and enjoy my future job."

John Begay

John Begay John is a sophomore at Northern Arizona University studying Environmental Science applied Geology.

John is from Ganado, AZ, which is located on the Navajo Reservation. John has interned with the Nez Perce Reservation where he conducted outreach on environmental issues. He is currently an intern with the Navajo Nation Water Management Program in Ft. Defiance, Arizona.

2011 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Jamie Goudreau

Jamie Goudreau Jamie is a senior majoring in engineering. Jamie is originally from Valdez, Alaska and affiliated with the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians from Michigan. He is a member of the Northern Arizona University Hiking and Society of Hispanic Engineers clubs.

2010 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Beverly Maxwell

Beverly Maxwell Beverly is from Shiprock, New Mexico where she was born and raised. She has an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from Dine College and a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Biology from Fort Lewis College. She is a first-year graduate student in the Master of Science Biology program at Northern Arizona University. Her thesis research plan is to characterize and analyze ant distribution along the elevational gradient on the Carrizo Mountain on the Navajo reservation. The research will integrate Navajo cultural values and the scientific method, provide an opportunity for undergraduate students to learn field research, and foster an appreciation for the ant diversity on the Navajo Reservation.

2009 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Julaire Scott

Julaire is Navajo and double majoring in engineering and geology. She is interested in working with Native American tribes to develop working solutions to their environmental issues. Julaire in her own words said, " grown up on the Navajo reservation, I have been able to see the environmental issues, we, as a tribal nation face. During my undergraduate studies I am learning, from a technical view point, the effects of these environmental issues we encounter. Therefore I am working on a double major of Environmental Engineering and Geology with a Hydrogeology emphasis. With this program, my goal is to work with tribal nations on their environmental issues and help develop working solutions to their environmental issues.

I believe an environmental career is important to the future of Native people as new ways are being developed to generate domestic energy sources. Since some of these sources of energy from natural resources that are mined on or near our reservations or in the process of energy production, new pollutants are being created. As a future tribal environmental professional, this will give an opportunity to ensure the health of the people and the land are being protected."

2008 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Christopher Thompson

Christopher Thompson Christopher, a Native Alaskan from the community of Bettles, AK, is seeking two degrees at Northern Arizona University (NAU), one in Mechanical Engineering, another in Civil Engineering. Although he has struggled to finance his college education, he believes the experiences gained while working have helped mold him into the person he is becoming.

Christopher has taken on important responsibilities as a young person and learned about leadership first hand. He was the site manager for the power plant for his community, responsible for keeping the lights on during the cold Alaska nights. He was also elected to the City Council in his home community of Bettles, AK.

Joanna Hale, someone that knows Christopher noted that, "He is highly respected and well-loved by both local elders and his contemporaries for his generosity, compassion and willingness to work hard."

Christopher plans to return to his home community to help them address a variety of issues, including power generation. He wants to focus on alterative and renewable energy sources for Alaska communities.

2007 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Lydia Edgewater

Lydia Edgewater B.S. Chemistry, 2006 NAU
Hometown: Teec Nos Pos, Arizona

Lydia is a Navajo tribal member from the community of Teec Nos Pos, AZ. She graduated from high school in 2003 and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Northern Arizona University in 2006. She is currently working on a Masters in Science in Analytical Chemistry with an anticipated graduation date of 2008.

Lydia is devoted to addressing environmental impacts to her community and family. Her grandfather used to tell her stories about working in the uranium mines. She is currently doing research at NAU with Professor Jani Ingram to identify impacts of uranium on sheep and the Navajo People. She is interested in continuing the research to ensure that the Navajo people recognize the hazards of uranium mining and what needs to be done to mitigate the hazards. Her future plans include the possibility of a PhD in chemistry or pharmacy school.

2006 VM Scholarship Recipient(s)

Ulaleya L. Stanley

Ulaleya L. Stanley Major: Environmental Engineering
Hometown: Tuba City, Arizona

Career Ambitions:
After getting my B.S.E. degree in Environmental Engineering from Northern Arizona University, I plan on working for an engineering company where I can gain enough experience to return to the Navajo Reservation. My ultimate goal is to return to the Navajo Nation and work as an environmental engineer. I am also interested in working for other Native American tribes around the United States.

I would like to thank the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) for awarding me with the Virgil Masayesva scholarship. With so many expenses, such as tuition, books, and class fees, I need all the help I can get. This scholarship will help me in my journey. I would like to thank everyone at ITEP, including the people who donate to the Virgil Masayesva scholarship. I would also like to thank the artist, Stacy Talahytewa, whose art raises money for the ITEP scholarship. Thank you all for your help in bringing me closer to my goal of becoming an environmental engineer. One day I hope that I can contribute back to ITEP in some way. Thank you.