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Awards recognize students, teachers, volunteers, others

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FARMINGTON — A Navajo Preparatory School student and an entity of the Navajo Nation are among the 12 recipients of the 2019 Excellence in STEM Awards.

Navajo Prep junior Sky Harper was selected as a winner for the high school student category and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company was named a recipient in the business category.

The awards are presented by the Air Force Research Laboratory New Mexico's Tech Engagement Office. They recognize students, teachers, volunteers and others who demonstrate a commitment to and advocate for learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"I'm just really happy because out of grades ninth through 12th, they only picked one person, and I was lucky enough to get the award," said, who will receive a $1,500 scholarship.

The 17-year-old has attended Navajo Prep since ninth grade. He competes in science fairs at school, and at the county and state levels, and on the Navajo Nation.

"All those science fairs, what they did was strengthen my communication skills because you're up there defending all of the research," Harper said, adding the projects have furthered his understanding of lessons from class.

He is Dziłt'áadi Kiyaa'áanii (Near the Mountain Towering House Clan), born for Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Tótsohníí (Big Water), and his parental grandfather clan is Kiyaa'áanii (Towering House).

Harper said he was interested in dinosaurs as a child, and his curiosity about science developed as he grew up along the West Coast and in Washington state, Minnesota and Ohio before his parents, Jefferson and Cassandra Begay, decided to return the family to the Four Corners area.

His mother fueled his curiosity by telling him Navajo stories about the twin heroes, Monster Slayer and Born for Water, eliminating monsters that plagued the Diné.

His interest in science and Navajo culture have shown up in his science projects. Last year, Harper focused on the moon's origin for one such project. He tied the theory that the moon was created by debris from an object that collided with Earth to the Navajo story about the deity Changing Woman using stone stabs from Earth to create the sun and the moon.

NTEC education coordinator Nathan Tohtsoni said the company is excited to be recognized for its work in STEM activities.

That work includes organizing and conducting several educational fairs each year, called STEM-sation Day, to promote and demonstrate careers in STEM fields. The latest such event took place on Thursday in Piñon, Arizona.

"We have worked hard to create opportunities for students to learn about STEM-related professions," Tohtsoni said. "Our STEM-sation events on the Navajo Nation have been well received as we have engaged hundreds of students at our events."

The winners will receive their awards at a ceremony on Feb. 22 in Albuquerque.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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