November is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, and so I can’t think of a better time to introduce you to Deana Around Him, a social and behavioral health researcher active in efforts to improve the health of infants and children in native communities. Deana is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, where she grew up with her mother and sisters after losing her father to a car accident when she was only 3 years old.
Deana’s father was a pharmacist, and, as a child, Deana thought that she would follow in his footsteps. But after participating in the National Youth Leadership Forum for Medicine one summer in high school, she set her sights instead on a career in medicine and made her way to Brown University, Providence, RI. Attending an Ivy League school was something she “never in her wildest dreams imagined” as a kid.
After college, Deana worked as a high school science teacher on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Many of her students lived in extreme poverty, and Deana said it became clear to her that the ones who succeeded in class had the strongest connections to their families, cultural values, and tribal traditions.
Deana started thinking about early life experiences and wanted to learn more about their impact on public health. So with a focus on this formative period of life, she went back to earn a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University, and later a doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore.
Last year, Deana came to the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, as a postdoctoral fellow, where she worked with Teresa Brockie on a community-based, participatory research project that aims to address violence and abuse, particularly that affecting infants and children, on a Northern Plains American Indian reservation. Just recently, she’s joined the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. as a fellow, where, among other things, she is developing culturally appropriate interventions to promote safe sleep environments for infants living in tribal communities.
Deana says it’s important to encourage more native people to pursue advanced science degrees, as well as to help shape the research agenda for their communities. One challenge to realizing that vision is that many children and teachers in tribal communities are unaware of the many educational and training opportunities available to them at NIH and many other institutions. I hope Deana’s story will raise awareness and serve as an inspiration to encourage these young people to set out to accomplish things that they could have never imagined in their wildest dreams.
National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month (Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of The Interior)
National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center (Washington, D. C.)
Science Careers (National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH)
Careers Blog (Office of Intramural Training/NIH)