Ranalda Tsosie, Individual Interdisciplinary PhD program
Ranalda Tsosie is a PhD student in the Individual Interdisciplinary program who conducts her research in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry under the direction of Professor Emeritus Edward Rosenberg. She participated in the May graduation ceremony and will finish her degree over the summer.
It has been an interesting journey to get to this point. Tsosie said, “My story is that typical of a non-traditional student. I had a family prior to returning to school; I was an entrepreneur tired of the same old day-to-day duties, so I decided to go back to school. I started at a tribal college, Diné College and received three A.S. degrees, then a B.S. in Chemistry at the University of New Mexico (UNM). At first, I wanted to pursue pharmacy school but later realized my passion was in the lab. I have always been drawn to science since I was very young, and I became really motivated when I started studying the toxicity of metals to humans in a biomedical lab at UNM and the Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity (IMSD) program.”
“The IMSD program planted the seed of the possibility of going to graduate school,” Tsosie stated. “The program had so many great mentors that encouraged its participants to apply to graduate school. They also provided us with an opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate.”
As a prospective student seeking an environmental chemistry program, what first caught Tsosie’s attention about the University of Montana (UM) was the research that was being done in the chemistry department. Although she is no longer solely in that department, she still calls it home.
The Individual Interdisciplinary program was a good fit for Tsosie because it allowed her to combine her interests in chemistry, environmental studies, and geosciences. “Everything that I have studied can be applied to multiple areas. This degree program has allowed me to understand a certain issue from multiple perspectives and provide feedback.”
“I was really drawn to UM because of the close proximity to other Native lands, and the funding for Indigenous graduate students was phenomenal,” Tsosie said. Additionally, she was interested in working with Dr. Edward Rosenberg “because of his previous work with the development of advanced materials for metal ion separations and recovery from acid mine leaches, drainages and industrial waste streams. I wanted to develop a solution to the mine legacy’s contamination of water in my home community and my Nation (Diné).”
Tsosie continued, “I knew I wanted to study uranium remediation, but as the years and research progressed, I realized our (Diné Nation) problems were more than just uranium but also involved other elements of concern like arsenic and vanadium to name a couple. Also, I started out approaching the science from a western perspective, but over time I realized the value of incorporating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into the science itself. In response to that realization, I started using an Indigenous science (Diné Science) framework to conduct my research.”
This framework of Indigenous science is something that Tsosie believes will stick with her after graduation, and she is proud that she has the ability to share the science from an Indigenous perspective. She is thankful, “UM has a strong and supportive Native community and many helpful resources in the area, such as American Indian Student Services, the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership, the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center, and Pacific Northwest Circle of Success: Mentoring Opportunities in STEM (PNW-COSMOS). I also have had some awesome advisors and graduate committee members!”
In fact, communicating with advisors is one of the pieces of advice that she gives to prospective graduate students. She also advises, “Work hard and make use of all the opportunities that are available to graduate students like the Jump Start writing boot camp, professional development series, and Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) functions.”
As for the next part of her journey, Tsosie is hopeful that it will be “a postdoctoral or faculty appointment at some great institution. I eventually want to return to my native homeland and teach chemistry in the Diné language. I also would like to foster and advise other Indigenous students to pursue graduate degrees in STEM.” She was able to do that recently in an online article published by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
Image: Ranalda Tsosie works in the lab on remediating unregulated waters on the Navajo reservation.