Education and tech partnerships yield big benefits

Imagine a future where communities across the Navajo nation will have access to clean water, and Navajo students become community leaders who engage family and community members in the use of modern technology, honoring and integrating deep cultural traditions.

This is the vision of N4WPP, the Navajo Nation Technical University of Navajo (NTU) -New Mexico (NMT) water treatment project. The project was conceived in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and officially launched on September 22, 2020 with an official agreement between President Elmer Guy of NTU and President Stephen Wells of NMT. A special group of members from both universities is working to make this vision a reality.

The basis of the N4WPP partnership is water filtration technology developed at NMT to purify extracted water from oil fields. This modern technology is capable of removing basic salts and metals, including uranium, which contaminates many wells across the country. It can be installed in remote areas where water pumps running on windmills fill containers with water for livestock. The short-term goal is to identify wells with poor water quality, install these filtration units and use purified water for agriculture and livestock. The long-term goal is to provide a source of water that has been tested safe for home use. Many families travel long distances to draw water from these wells; we can help improve their health and general well-being by making this water safe.

Filtration technology is the foundation of N4WPP, but the heart is education. NTU and NMT students are involved in all aspects of the project, including collecting and analyzing water samples, working with landowners in search of promising filtration sites, and advocating and interacting with the public. These students are key to the sustainability of the project and are the future workforce and leaders of the Navajo nation. NMT and NTU work closely together to engage students in research related to water, entrepreneurship and leadership development, having a strong base in the STEM disciplines.

Since the start of the project, NTU and NMT students have worked as research fellows with members at both universities. Several of these students are collaborating with landowners to determine the first place to test filtration facilities. Last year, two students from NTU and one from NMT participated in a national training on leaders as part of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Another important component is raising awareness and inspiring students to address the most important challenges of our communities. To that end, the N4WPP team is planning its first water symposium at Farmington High School in April. This symposium will train and engage high school students through a competition with opportunities to receive mentoring from professionals, talk to college students about their water-related research, and earn scholarships and internships.

One of the most beautiful and rewarding results of N4WPP is the strong partnership that is being formed to address one of the Navajo’s most important challenges. Several NTU and NMT teams meet weekly to plan the various components of the project.

This ambitious dream, launched a little over a year ago, continues to gain momentum. We look forward to the results of amazing collaboration, educational opportunities and community engagement in the Navajo and New Mexico, all in the context of sustainable water infrastructure with and for the Navajo people. That’s not it. Water is life.

This column presents the views of the author and does not reflect the views of New Mexico Tech, Socorro Consolidated School District, 100% Socorro or any other organizations, affiliates or their members.

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