“All my life, I grew up in an area that exemplifies the essence of beauty,” Monica Yellowhair says. “My people refer to this place as Tódinéshzhee’, but most know it as Kayenta, Ariz., located on the Navajo reservation in the northeastern part of the state.”
Yellowhair says she grew up on the reservation hearing stories about uranium miners and how the effects of uranium mining affected their health and the lives of their families. Kayenta is located 32 miles southwest of numerous abandoned mines.
“Uranium miners and their families did not receive compensation for the injustice endured over years of uranium mining,” she says. “Most Navajo people attribute the absence of compensation to lack of research and knowledge concerning the potential threat of cancer caused by its chemical properties rather than its radioactivity.”
She says hearing the stories made her feel determined to help people affected by uranium exposure.
“I believe pursuing a PhD in toxicology gives the opportunity to provide answers that plagued many people for so long: cancer,” she says.
Yellowhair, who plans to stay in academia doing research and teaching at a university after completing postdoctoral work, attended Northern Arizona University for a bachelor of science degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in chemistry.
She chose The University of Arizona for her PhD work because of experiences at NAU.
“I was fortunate to start my research involving the chemical genotoxicity of depleted uranium with the Native American Cancer Research Partnership,” she says. “This wonderful partnership gave me the privilege to collaborate with many people at UA and NAU. With my master’s degree in hand, I knew I wanted to continue the research on uranium and obtain a doctorate degree in toxicology.”
In her four years at UA, Yellowhair says her most rewarding experiences have been meeting new people, learning new concepts, and applying and receiving recognition in science.
“As a child, I was always fascinated and knew I would enter the wonderful world of science,” she says.