April Yazzie is at home in an unexpected
place. She is a Gates Millennium Scholar at the University of Michigan.
The Native woman found the diverse population of Ann Arbor enabled
her to blend into the community. Most people think she is Asian
and are surprised to learn she is Diné. At the University
of Michigan Yazzie is the only Native American and the only woman
studying aerospace engineering, a field populated mostly by male
was inspired to become an aerospace engineer by the reading of a
novel for pleasure. When she was a freshman at Many Farms High School
in Arizona, her older brother, Lance, recommended that she read
Michael Crichton's Airframe. Yazzie was captivated by one of the
characters, a female aerospace engineer, and decided to pursue that
Yazzie also cites her mother as inspiration.
When the rigorous curriculum at Michigan threatened to overwhelm
her, it was her mother's phone calls that encouraged her and kept
her on track.
Yazzie did not like high school English.
She chose the University of Michigan because engineering students
there only need to take technical writing. It was a way to avoid
English. However, Yazzie found that she enjoyed an advantage in
her university calculus
class because her academic preparation included AP English taught
by Judy Peterson at Blue Ridge High School. Her calculus class demanded
writing and she noticed that it was much easier for her than for
students who had not had AP classes.
Before leaving for Michigan, Yazzie returned
to Blue Ridge to thank her high school mentor Judy Peterson. Although
she did not appreciate it at the time, in hindsight she realizes
that Peterson's AP English classes had prepared her well for the
demands of university study.
Speaking of Peterson, Yazzie said, "She
taught me how to learn."
And learn Yazzie did. She applied for
a Gates Millennium Scholarship and was awarded the grant that will
pay for her expenses all the way to a PhD. During the summer, Yazzie
attended M-STEM, the Michigan Science Technology Engineering Math
Academy. Yazzie was one of 50 freshmen at the 6-week college prep
Then in September, Yazzie attended a career
fair where she met a recruiter who was the director of the NASA
Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She was
awarded an internship for summer 2010 and worked on attitude control
systems on the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission. Attitude
control regulates the orientation of the craft. The mission is scheduled
to launch a satellite in 2013.
Her work at Goddard opened the door to
visit Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There
she was given access to career options and research laboratories.
Yazzie hopes to return to Goddard again next year as an intern.
Yazzie's undergraduate research projects
at the University of Michigan include the development of robot ground
vehicles for use in high-risk military operations and liaison for
the Mars Rover Team.
Yazzie is the president of the American
Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) chapter at the University
of Michigan. She also actively mentors high school students at Many
Farms High School on the Navajo reservation during school vacations
to encourage them to go to college and become engineers. Yazzie
will be a Co-op (a student employee) at NASA Johnson Space Center
in Houston, Texas from January through April 2011.
Yazzie graduated from Blue Ridge High
School in 2009 and is the daughter of Martin and Janett Hardy of
Show Low, AZ.