Dr Blake is a postdoc in Özpolat Lab in the Department of Biology at Washington University in St Louis. His research is investigating the role of asymmetric cell division and its role in germline, mesoderm and stem cell fate decisions in P. dumerilii embryos.  We had the pleasure of chatting with him about his journey as a Navajo Scientist, his interests and how his brainchild Project ENABLE is giving back to the community.

1. First things first, what is ENABLE?

ENABLE stands for Enriching Navajo as Biology Language for Education. ENABLE is a project that creates science neologisms in the Diné (Navajo language) to help with science education, identity, and Diné (Navajo) language revitalization. We worked with primary school educators on Dinétah (The Navajo Nation) to identify 250 terms that reflect foundation biology concepts that translated into Diné bizaad (Navajo language) would help with science education for Diné speaking community members.  We worked with a Diné linguist to help create these science words which were then verified with Diné speaking members. We are currently working on creating educational materials to assist with science education to help disseminate these words on Dinetah. We try to post a word every week on our website.  Want to know more about it? Follow us on Twitter @ENABLE_Biology or email at enablebiology@gmail.com.

2. How does ENABLE relate to your current research?

ENABLE relates to my research by providing tools to speakers of Diné bizaad that will help them to understand and discuss what we as scientists are doing in the lab. ENABLE hopes to build a bridge between science and the Diné community by circumventing language barriers. I’m studying cell division (ats’íís bitł’óól ałts’á dahinisé) in Platynereis dumerilii embryos, so it’s great to be able to tell people back home about my work in our own language.   

3. When did you first become interested in science, and biology in particular? 

I would say I became interested in science when I was younger. I spent a lot of time outside and would always be asking questions about the environment around us. I became interested in biology during my undergraduate at The University of Iowa when I was introduced to research in the lab through a program called the Iowa Sciences Academy.  

5. What challenges have you faced since you became a researcher, and how have you overcome them?

Growing up on Dinétah (the Navajo Nation) I was raised in the culture of my people. I always felt torn between my passion for science and my love for my heritage of indigenous culture and tradition. However, working on ENABLE has helped me reconcile my intersectionality and quelled my imposter syndrome. I feel proud to be a part of a project that may welcome other Diné individuals to explore similar passions in biology.  

6. Finally, is there anything you do that people would be surprised to find out about you? 

I love competitive board games and video games. I enjoy the juxtaposition of bonding with friends while simultaneously testing your friendship. 

Interviewed and Edited by Outreach Comittee 2022-2023