Twenty-year-old Shawna Greyeyes has a resume to envy a researcher twice her age.
In the two years since she graduated from Coconino High School and began attending Coconino Community College, she has conducted research everywhere from the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts to Tucson’s Biosphere 2 as well as in local labs at CCC and Northern Arizona University. On separate occasions, she has also traveled all over the country for academic conferences and to share her work.
“I like conducting the research and communicating my science to everybody so they can understand it, to show them how important research is,” she said.
Environmental science has been her passion since she completed an internship with the University of Arizona’s Native American Science and Engineering program prior to her senior year of high school, Greyeyes explained, but as she finishes up her time at CCC and prepares to attend Northern Arizona University in the fall, another area of study will join it: nursing, another longtime interest.
“After having this pandemic strike, I did a reality check,” Greyeyes said. “If I want to do research I have to sign up for grants and that’s not a for-sure thing that I would get. With nursing, that’s a job that’s always in need, so I won’t go out of work.”
She plans to first wrap up a degree in biology, then move on to NAU’s accelerated nursing program that will help ensure financial stability as she works toward her goal of bringing her environmental science knowledge back to the Navajo Nation.
Though Greyeyes grew up in Flagstaff, she is originally from Shonto and still visits often. Her family returns to tend to the crops they plant there, like corn and squash, she explained. Although a few family members briefly attended college, she will be the first to complete her degree, after both her parents and grandparents emphasized the importance of going to school.
Beyond just completing her degree, Greyeyes has been a leading member of CCC’s chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and in March, she was one of two CCC students awarded the All-Arizona Academic Team Scholarship, which provides free tuition for 60 credit hours at the recipient’s choice of one of the three state universities.
Eventually, Greyeyes hopes to create her own research site to help study environmental issues that plague the Navajo Nation, such as water quality and droughts as well as the effects of uranium mining.
The idea was partly inspired by her work in the Harvard Forest, where Greyeyes helped give a voice to the Witness Tree, a red oak tree in the forest equipped with sensors to measure its responses to surrounding environmental conditions. Beginning as a summer intern last year, Greyeyes helped a team create messages that the tree sends automatically sends out via social media, based on its conditions. The tree has nearly 9,000 Twitter followers.
“For years, so many people have been saying climate change is happening, the trees and all these other species are dying, but if it’s coming from those actual species, like a tree, maybe they would understand it more,” Greyeyes said.
Greyeyes has done other work with trees during her time as a research assistant at NAU, where she measures and processes tree cores and other samples for Andrew Richardson’s lab, where studies focus on the impacts of global change on land ecosystems.
Like her work in the Harvard Forest, Greyeyes’ research at CCC had a modern spin, as she and a team of other students studied the effects of 5G cellular networks on the growth of plants. Although the experiment was completed before COVID-19 closures, Greyeyes said unfortunately, the team has not been able to analyze its data, which is currently stored at CCC’s Lone Tree Campus.
No matter what she is researching or learning from others, Greyeyes is always drawn back to the community impact, like the one she hopes to make by bringing both needed research and healthcare — even if it’s just a weekend job to support her research — to the Navajo Nation
“I like how you can take science and improve a community, whether that could be the livelihood or the environment itself,” she said.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.