Winter 2022

Udall Scholar Nadira Mitchell Pursues a Career to Benefit Wildlife and her Community

Support on the Path of Stewardship

From collecting snails as a kid to participating in science fairs to doing community outreach, Nadira Mitchell is well on her way to fulfilling her dream.

A University of Arizona junior in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Mitchell hopes to become a tribal liaison for wildlife conservation and management. She’s interested in working for Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Nation.

Mitchell is one of 55 students nationwide — including four at UArizona — awarded Udall Scholarships last summer. The scholarships support students who demonstrate leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or the environment. It honors the legacies of politicians Morris and Stewart Udall.

“Older Native peers were telling me to apply for the Udall Scholarship even before college,” says Mitchell, who is Navajo. “It seems like it just manifested itself. I knew this is pretty much a perfect fit for me and my goals.”

Born in Tucson, Mitchell fell in love early with the diversity of life in the Sonoran Desert. She was especially fascinated with the animals that spring up after monsoon rains. She fondly remembers collecting snails; as she crawled and dug around her yard, she would tally how many she found.

Mitchell’s mom, Agnes Attakai, encouraged her to explore nature and taught her about her Navajo culture. Attakai serves as the director of health disparities outreach and prevention education in UArizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

“My Navajo culture inspired me to respect and protect animals. For example, if you kill ants, that’s not healthy for you, my mom always said. I wanted to protect them and be a steward for all wildlife,” Mitchell says. 

Mitchell’s love of science flourished as she progressed through school. She participated in science fairs sponsored by SARSEF, the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation, from elementary to high school. Her passion for science fairs and the networking she did at them led to her serving on the SARSEF board of directors.

“SARSEF was really encouraging to me because I got the opportunity to have a platform to talk about something I’m passionate about,” she says. “You can’t learn everything in a classroom; you just have to get out there and explore sometimes.”

At UArizona, Mitchell helped found the American Indian Student Initiatives club in 2019. The group aims to reduce environmental injustices in Native American communities by raising public awareness and organizing direct actions.

The club collaborated with GRID Alternatives to install solar panels for a Navajo family without electricity just before the pandemic lockdowns began. Over the last year, the group has organized virtual education events on topics including environmental justice, the impact of coronavirus on Native communities and border issues.