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Life of a Summer Intern
By Cynthia Delgado
Rodeo champion and summer intern Lakota Mowrer says she grew up "thinking science was a joke." Until a few months ago, she didn't know much about NIH. In the past 8 weeks, however, her outlook has changed dramatically, and NIH has gained a promising young advocate.
The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management sponsored Mowrer through the Washington Interns for Native Students (WINS) program, implemented by American University. As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux of South Dakota, Mowrer is eligible for the program. She heard about the internship from her supervisor at the University of Notre Dame, where she is a sociology major. "When I told my roommate, who is pre-med, about my acceptance, she was jealous. She told me all about the NIH, and I got a little nervous about everyone's expectations since I'm not a science major," says Mowrer.
During her internship, Mowrer gained practical skills and work experience, and participated in numerous NIH outreach activities. She served on a discussion panel for the American Indian/Alaska Native Youth Initiative, a collaborative effort with the Association of American Indian Physicians and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. During the event, high school students from all over the country visit NIH for 2 days to learn about training, research and internship opportunities. In Lipsett Amphitheater, Mowrer fielded questions from the audience, and talked about her experiences at NIH and how she secured her internship. Her assistance in the final planning stages of the initiative was instrumental to the program's success.
Mowrer made headline news when she joined the OD EEO office as part of the NIH Native American Powwow Outreach Initiative on a 4-day trip in July to the Lumbee tribe reunion (similar to a powwow) in North Carolina. While working the NIH booth, a News Channel 13 reporter interviewed her. Her OEODM supervisor Michael Chew says, "She handled herself very well while discussing NIH's outreach goals and her internship. The following day, many visitors said they knew about the booth because they saw her interview on TV."
For 2 weeks of her internship, Mowrer was assigned to the Office of Science Education. She reviewed one of the office's curriculum supplements and provided feedback on how to make it more culturally relevant for Native Americans. She also joined OSE staff at a local high school, to see how the supplement was used in the classroom and how students responded to it. "On the reservation, we just colored pictures of frogs in science class," says Mowrer. After being here, she understands the need to recruit more students into the field, especially to work on health disparities.
"I've learned it is important to stress the sciences in education," she says. Taking the initiative, Mowrer contacted numerous school counselors on her reservation to tell them about free educational materials available at NIH.
Mowrer plans to complete her studies at Notre Dame, and continue in her other roles there as president of the Native American Student Association and president of the Rodeo Club. After finishing her degree, she is considering law school. "I want to be involved in Native American policy, and work on issues that affect our people such as suicide, alcoholism and domestic abuse," she says. She hopes to return to NIH next summer.
Mowrer's internship has been enlightening, a real eye-opener at the very least. When she first arrived on campus, she admits to being amazed by all the institutes and the magnitude of research under way. On her reservation, many of her family members were participants in NHLBI's Strong Heart Study. She worked for the study, tracking and recruiting participants and filing records. She didn't realize it was part of NIH until she met the study's principal investigator here. "I didn't realize the connection," she said.
"Growing up on the reservation, you don't view the government very well. You go to the hospitals and see the health disparities and wonder why no one is doing anything about it. After coming here, I realize that something is being done," she says. "I'm going to make sure my tribe appreciates what NIH does, because it's very important."
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