Jordan Jimmie Researcher Feature: aquifer recharge in the Yakama Nation

Yá’át’ééh! My name is Jordan Jimmie, and I am a second-year Ph.D. student in Water Resources Engineering and an M.S. student in Biological and Ecological Engineering at Oregon State University. My Ph.D. project entails working with the Yakama Nation, in Washington State, to optimize operations of a managed aquifer recharge project in the lower Toppenish Creek watershed. We are interested in knowing how much more water the system can take in, groundwater residence time, and if the method of recharge is more effective than other recharge methods. 

In 2020, I completed my master’s degree program in Forestry at the University of Montana. In 2017, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona. Attending both institutions encouraged coupling together hydrology and Tribal water law and policy to advocate for getting clean water to all Tribal communities. I believe having firm knowledge of both worlds will be an immense asset to Tribal Nation in the future, especially in the age of Climate Change.

I am a proud member of the Navajo Nation, a federally recognized Tribal Nation, located in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, and by the model of service shown by my parents instilled the idea of using my education to improve Tribal welfare and livelihoods. In my opinion, having access to clean water, and cleaning up contaminated sources, is of utmost importance for the healthy continuation of Indigenous Nations in the United States. In my spare time, I enjoy lifting, running, backpacking, being with family, painting, and cooking.

Was there a professional development opportunity you took advantage of that was essential to your career today?

I would say two major opportunities that helped mold my future goals.

Firstly, I was privileged to intern for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources as part of the Udall Foundation Native American Congressional Internship Program. I was a senior undergraduate when I participated in 2016, and it exposed me to the internal workings of proposing and enacting a Native American Water Rights Settlement. At the time, the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement and Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians Water Rights Settlement were working their way through Congress. The opportunity shed light on the ways the Federal Government incorporates hydrological sciences in the decision-making process of adjudicating a watershed. It pushed me to keep going with school and work towards earning a Ph.D., to be able have credibility when advocating for Tribal Nations in the adjudication process. Knowing the science behind how hydrologists and engineers come up with volumes of water to be allocated and if the numbers make sense is critical.

The second opportunity I took part in was interning at Hargis + Associates, Inc., a firm that specializes in hydrogeology and environmental engineering. It exposed me to the day-to-day work done by a hydrogeologist in industry. The opportunity came about my asking if the company has internship opportunities for students. Luckily, the head hydrogeologist is an Arizona alumnus, and I knew him beforehand. This opportunity shed light on the comradery and willingness of seasoned hydrologists to help the upcoming generation of water experts. It also reinforced the need to expand and nurture professional connections made along the way. The internship also confirmed my desire to stay working in the water realm after I am done with school. Native representation in engineering firms is also critical in raising up those who come after me.

How did you end up in the field of Hydrology?

My journey in hydrology started in high school, when I went on a camping trip with friends just south of Flagstaff, right before heading down to Sedona on 89-A. It was spring and warming up, so we were fortunate to see runoff, either from melting snow or groundwater, making its way down to Oak Creek Canyon. I watched a trickle of water turn into a roaring torrent of water; I was in awe. From then on, I knew I wanted to work around water, but just didn’t know there was a field devoted to the study of water.

Fast forward three semesters as a student at the University of Arizona, where I was an Water Resources and Economic major. Not really feeling it, I sought out another major, and came across Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources. I immediately scheduled a meeting with the advisor, Dr. Martha Whitaker. When I met with Dr. Whitaker, she sold me on the major, particularly the part where there is guaranteed job security in hydrology, so I changed my academic pursuits. That began my journey.

11 years later, I am still content with my choice to pursue hydrology.

What inspires you?

Good question. Many things inspire me, but I will narrow it down to three.

My faith in Christ has been a foundation for progressing through academia, and I am in awe of how faithful He has been in providing all my needs over time. Jesus inspires me because He paid for it all.

My ancestors inspire me. Their resistance to colonization, with lots of prayer and luck, made it possible for me to be born Navajo. The sacrifices they made to ensure the continuation of Our Peoples convicts me to keep going, pursuing any goal I set my eye on. Without them, I literally would not exist.

My family inspires me. Growing up was tough and sometimes we were without, but the tenacity and resilience of my parents ensured all my needs were met and I was safe. My parents set the stage for my siblings and I to propel into academic excellence. Their unwavering support has pushed me to pursue a Ph.D., and oftentimes I think I do this in part because they were never afforded the same opportunity.

Which part of your work do you feel is the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of my work is the interaction I have with the Yakama Nation, and hopefully, the work I do will be of use to the Nation regarding water management. Being able to work with a Tribal Nation was a goal coming into a Ph.D. program, because I wish to work with Tribes for my career. Native Nations are rebuilding to the glory once has pre-contact, and I feel it is my duty to aid in those efforts, in the realm of water. Like I mentioned before, without access to clean water, Tribes cannot exist. Figuring out how to get clean water to Tribal communities, all while ensuring there is enough water for culturally significant aquatic species is incredibly rewarding. I wish to bring my talents back to Tribal communities that have invested much into my life and education. Doing all of this, all while earning a Ph.D., is a win-win in my eyes. I am incredibly blessed to be in the position I am today.

What is your not-to-do advice for those who want to start a PhD or are considering grad school?

It’s crazy. I feel like I have a lot to say when I am not prompted to speak on this. For now, these are the pieces of advice I can give to prospective graduate student (either M.S. or Ph.D.).

1. Make sure you find a good advisor, that you feel comfortable working with.

2. Make a budget and do your best to stick with it.

3. Literally, go have fun. Work/emails/editing/proposal writing will always be there, but time spent with important people will not be. There is a time and place for work and play.

4. Do you best to ensure funding is there for your time as a graduate student. I am a firm believe a person going for a STEM graduate degree should not be taking out loans. Go for the NSF GRFPs or Ford Fellowships, because you literally lose nothing, and the potential payout is outstanding. Plus, learning how to craft outstanding proposals is a good skill to have in academia.

5. Keep in touch with mentors at previous institutions, because they’ll likely be needed for references or letter of recommendations in the future. Plus, they’ll be future colleagues once you’re done.

6. Be sure to have a mental health support system. There is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or taking time for yourself. Get out of town for a bit or visit family. There will be bad days, but don’t let those days dictate how you view your entire experience. There will also be awesome days!

7. Learn to self-advocate. If you feel like your work is affecting your overall well-being, tell someone. Often, professors/mentors know what you’re going through, and can empathize with your situation. However, they aren’t mind readers, and the last thing I would advise is suffering alone. Communication is helpful!

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