About Utah: ‘They’ve been able to see something they haven’t seen before’


Three years ago, when they were 12 years old and just out of elementary school, three Navajo kids, Jadan Lacy, Shakira Cervantes and Quiana Dishface, had a decision to make:

Should they stay home on the reservation for the summer or should they spend it in town in Blanding taking math classes?

They chose summer school, believe it or not.

Smart kids.

This Friday, in ceremonies at the Utah State University campus in Blanding, Jadan, Shakira and Quiana will be part of a group of 23 Native American teenagers who represent the first graduating class of PREP, a national summer school program that prepares kids to be scientists, engineers, doctors, tech wizards, astronauts and the like. (PREP stands for Prefreshman Engineering Program).

For three straight years, the American Indian kids have given up six weeks of their summer vacation to live on campus at the USU-Blanding dorms and immerse themselves in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Their daily routine has been like a full-time job, and then some. Through Skype, they’ve heard morning lectures and seen demonstrations from world-renowned engineers, mathematicians, doctors, computer programmers and space scientists. On weekly field trips, they’ve visited dams, mines and other high-tech facilities. Their classwork has included everything from physics to algebra to technical writing to a steady dose of problem-solving exercises.

At night, they crash in their dorm rooms, recharging their brains for what’s next.

For these kids, high school, which starts in three weeks, doesn’t look nearly as daunting.

Ask why they did it and you get the expected teenage nonchalance.

“There’s hardly anything to do on the rez,” Shakira shrugs.

“It’s this or pull weeds or herd sheep,” says Jadan.

“Or walk five miles to help grandma,” says Quiana, grinning.

But there’s a deeper layer to the sacrifice they’re making and no one knows that better than Sylvia McMillan, the director of the program.

Three years ago, Slyvia was lured away by American Indian Services,…

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