Lesley Eldridge and Sheridan Winston Cowboy have a few things in common.
Both are members of the Navajo Nation from Gallup. They are in their early 20s and recently graduated from the University of New Mexico. They plan to pursue their education in health care, then apply that knowledge toward helping other Native Americans.
Cowboy and Eldridge are also two of six New Mexican recipients this year of $5,000 Diverse Scholars Initiative scholarships from the United Health Foundation. All six are Navajo.
It was the third time for Eldridge, who used the money to help pay for books, lab fees and tuition.
“The scholarship came at exactly the right time,” she said Tuesday. “It saved my college education.”
This past spring, Eldridge graduated from UNM with a triple major in biology, psychology and chemistry. Now she wants to go to medical school. Her top choice is UNM, but she also has an eye on schools in Minnesota and Arizona.
Her goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon, but that could change, she said. After medical school, she wants to work with American Indians, be they pediatric or geriatric or somewhere in between.
The 24-year-old would not mind returning to the Navajo Reservation. But she will work where she can be most helpful to native people, she said.
She recently married, and her husband is in a graduate program in Denver, so the couple will be moving there soon.
Cowboy, 23, has received the scholarship twice. He graduated in July with a degree in science. His goal is to earn a doctorate in physical therapy that he can take back to the Navajo Nation and put to good use.
He hails from Bread Springs, about 15 miles south of Gallup on the reservation. Like Eldridge, he hopes to apply his profession through Indian Health Services.
Cowboy, the first in his family to go to college, was inspired to go into physical therapy by his grandmother, or, more specifically, by her predicament. She has knee problems, he said, but the health care available on the reservation is lacking.
“That got me motivated,” he said. “I want to get my doctorate, then bring the ‘white man’s knowledge’ back to the reservation.”
One problem with health care on the big Navajo Reservation is that many outside physicians and other medical workers come with the best of intentions, but run into cultural and language barriers, Cowboy said. So the treatment he will ultimately offer should be “faster, more efficient and more effective.”
The other New Mexicans to receive the scholarships are Patricia Dixon, who is studying dental hygiene at San Juan College in Farmington and three nursing students at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint: D’Ayn DeGroat, Martina Martinez and Katrina Morgan.
United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative, through its partner organizations, will award nearly $2 million in scholarships this school year to students from diverse backgrounds.
The goal is to increase diversity in the health care workforce.