Karletta Chief, PhD, MS, associate professor and extension specialist in the University of Arizona Department of Environmental Science at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and associate professor in the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health in the Community, Environment and Policy Department, received the University of Arizona Distinguished Outreach Faculty Award for 2021. The award recognizes faculty who have made outstanding contributions to outreach at the University of Arizona, in the State of Arizona and the nation.
Dr. Chief also will be awarded a personalized bench in the Women’s Plaza of Honor in recognition of her leadership and scholarship at UArizona. Much of Dr. Chief’s outreach is focused on environmental justice in Native American and Indigenous communities.
“It is with great honor that I accept the Distinguished Outreach Faculty Award and join my esteemed colleagues who have been recognized for their outreach to connect with our communities through impactful research,” Dr. Chief said. “I don’t do this work alone. Outreach occurs as a team effort with my community partners, faculty, staff and students who work alongside me.”
Dr. Chief earned a master of science in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University. She received her doctorate in hydrology and water resources from the UArizona in 2007 and joined the faculty in 2011. “I am an extension specialist who aims to bridge the university with community through community-driven research in water research. I work to bring relevant water science to Native American communities in a culturally sensitive manner,” Dr. Chief explained.
“My commitment to communities comes through my passion to give back to Indigenous communities and Diné communities,” said Dr. Chief. “I represent my family and ancestors through my four clans as Bitterwater, Near-the-water, Manygoats, and Red-running-into-the-water Clans and it is upon their shoulders and the Creator’s blessings to be able to be in this place do the work I am doing, but also remembering the challenges that Indigenous communities and peoples have come through and face today. I am incredible grateful and humbled to receive this tremendous honor by the University of Arizona.”
Dr. Chief is the principal investigator of the National Science Foundation funded Indigenous Food, Energy & Water Security and Sovereignty (Indige-FEWSS) program at UArizona, which is currently training 38 graduate students. “Indige-FEWSS’s vision is to develop a diverse workforce with intercultural awareness and expertise in sustainable food, energy, and water systems (FEWS), specifically through off-grid technologies to address the lack of safe water, energy and food security in Indigenous communities,” she said.
Dr. Chief is also the community engagement core director at the UArizona Superfund Research Center. “Native American communities are disproportionately impacted by mining and have the highest rate of diabetes,” she explained. “Diabetes increases when tribal members are exposed to arsenic contaminated waters. Our goal is to engage Native American communities in community-based participatory research to develop and implement intervention and strategies to decrease exposure to arsenic-laden waters and risk to diabetes while providing training, education, capacity building and engagement tools.”
Nominating Dr. Chief for the outreach award was a joint effort between the Department of Environmental Science (ENVS), the Arizona Institutes for Resilience (AIR) and the Agnese Nelms Haury Program for Environment and Social Justice with support from colleagues across UArizona, the Navajo Nation and throughout the country.
The Women’s Plaza of Honor is a space created by the UArizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Dr. Chief’s personalized bench will be unveiled in a private ceremony this spring. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Department of Environmental Science, the James E Rogers College of Law and the Haury Program coordinated this recognition as a tribute to Dr. Chief’s outstanding contributions to the UArizona community.
“It is an unexpected and tremendous honor,” Dr. Chief said. “I am indebted and thankful to Gender and Women’s Studies for making a space for women to be honored on campus. I stand on the shoulders of all the women before me including Adzáá Tó’díchíínii, my great-great grandmother, who through her weaving survived the internment camp at Bosque Redondo during the Long Walk by weaving beautiful Navajo rugs and exchanging them for food. Now as a professor, wife and mother, I strive to give back to future generations of women leaders!”