SACNAS is the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science – dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM. You can check out their biography project for first-person stories from Native american scientists working in STEM! Dr. Jani Ingram is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University, Via SACNAS
I was born in 1962 in Kingman, Arizona. Kingman is a very multi-cultural community, and has a large mix of Hispanics, Native Americans, and Anglos. I am a mix myself; my mother is Navajo and my father is Caucasian.
During the time I was raised, Kingman was such a little town that there were not a lot of career opportunities for women, and girls didn’t see examples of women who were doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists. Many girls, including myself, struggled with this lack of role models. However, I received a tremendous amount of encouragement from my parents who were both teachers. They showed me that an education could take me far.
Growing up in Kingman had its advantages too. In a smaller community you can really excel, even if you aren’t the smartest person in the whole world. I was a good athlete and I was the valedictorian of my high school class. The confidence I gained in my hometown gave me courage through my entire education.
After high school I went to Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona where I played basketball. It was at Yavapai where I first fell in love with chemistry. I had always loved math and had decided to study engineering. While taking my standard science requirements, I took my first chemistry class. I had an incredibly enthusiastic chemistry professor that really made the lectures and labs come alive. Even though I loved chemistry, the class was still very hard for me. I actually went to my professor to tell him I needed to switch classes to take something easier. He said, “Oh no you don’t!” He was able to show me how to take a step back and ask for help, instead of saying, “I quit!”
As I continued with my education, however, I learned there are times when you truly have to give some things up. For example, when I went to New Mexico State University to get my B.S. in chemistry, I thought I would continue playing basketball. I quickly saw that basketball, on top of my classes and labs, was going to be impossible. Quitting basketball was a hard decision to make, but it was an important step in preparing for graduate school, where science had to be my entire focus.