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Ph.D. student Emily McDonnell (American studies) is a proud citizen of the Navajo Nation. She shared a traditional Navajo biography with us — she is Tó’áhání (Near the Water), born for Bilagáana (Greek-Irish). Her cheii, or maternal grandfather, is Tł’ízí Łání (Many Goats), and her nalí, or paternal grandmother, is Bilagáana (Greek-Irish). She was raised and educated in the Navajo community of Kayenta, Arizona. She earned a B.S. from the University of Arizona with a minor in American Indian Studies, and an M.P.A. from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. She is currently a Humanities for the Public Good Fellow at the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. We caught up with McDonnell for Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.

Through her work, she said, “I hope to inspire the next generation of Native scholars and make my community proud!”

Q: What led you to Carolina to pursue your graduate degree?

A: I chose to come to Carolina for several reasons. I lived in Arizona my entire life and I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by the Native American community at every stage of my education. I wanted to see how Indigenous identity functions in other spaces, and Carolina has provided the opportunity to engage with and learn from students and community leaders from tribal nations from all over the state.

When choosing where to pursue my doctorate, it was also important to me to choose a public institution that is rooted in serving the public through its work. I come from the public sector and from a very community-oriented space. I believe that Carolina will give me the tools to continue serving my community and Native Nations in an even stronger and more impactful capacity.

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