On Her Chosen Path

Amanda Skenadore

Amanda Skenadore

Courtesy of Amanda Skenadore

When the invitation to attend an inaugural ball in Washington D.C. arrived in her mail, University of Northern Colorado graduate student Amanda Skenadore had to read it twice. "Then I called my internship boss to ask for more information about it," she said.

Skenadore learned that she had been invited to the Jan. 20 American Indian Society Inaugural Ball to thank her for her work as an intern with the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH).

"After the shock wore off, I started screaming and told my sisters and called my mom right away," she said.

It will be a glittering side trip on a career path that Skenadore has kept in determined focus.

Skenadore grew up in Chinle, Ariz., a small town on the Navajo reservation. "I am born for the Towering House people and born into the Red Cheek Clan," she writes in her NCUIH bio.

She attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., earning her bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2005.

After graduating, she returned to Arizona, working as a health educator and physical activities coordinator for the American Indian population with Scottsdale's Native Health. Two years later, missing Colorado's change of seasons, Skenadore returned to Denver, where she worked for Jefferson County's Head Start program for four years.

While there, she felt she'd need to earn a master's degree to progress in her field. Accepted at schools in Colorado, Kansas and Washington state, she chose to attend the Colorado School of Public Health, a collaborative program among the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

"My main area is community health, and my coursework at the University of Northern Colorado specifically addresses how to approach a community and provide it with health education," she said.

Native American reservations face a high rate of diabetes, as well as the lack of adequate health care, Skenadore said. She hopes to address both problems through her work in community health and would like to eventually return to the Navajo reservation to make a difference for the community.

She also hopes to make a difference at UNC. With fewer than 50 percent of Native American students graduating from high school, and even fewer going on to graduate from college, Skenadore is part of an effort to encourage Native American high school students to graduate and set college as a goal.

"That's part of what I'll be doing with my master's project, telling students you can go to school and you can make a difference," she said. "There aren't enough public health professionals who return to the reservation to help their people. I'm working with Dr. Teresa Sharp and Dr. Liz Gilbert (both in the Community Health program) to help recruit more Native American students."

It wasn't long after Skenadore started her studies at UNC that her former boss in Arizona came across information about an internship with the NCUIH that she thought would be a great opportunity for Skenadore.

The NCUIH, based in Washington, D.C., works to support and develop health care programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives in urban communities.

Skenadore applied, and in February 2011 secured a remote internship with the organization, allowing her to work from Denver. She corresponds with the D.C. offices daily in her role as technical assistance and research center assistant at NCUIH.

When she leaves Thursday for the inauguration festivities, it will be her first time visiting the nation's capital - something she's anticipating in spite of her fear of flying.

She plans to do some sightseeing while she's there, along with going to the ball and attending the inauguration. While she doesn't expect to meet the president at the ball she's attending, Skenadore is excited about the prospect of meeting tribal health leaders and Native Americans within the community health field.

By Monday night, she'll be catching a red-eye back to Colorado. And, with her feet planted firmly back on her chosen path, she'll have a new internship waiting for her to start the next morning at 8 a.m. - this time with the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, working on its Healthy Living Program.

- Debbie Moors, UNC News Service