Alum and Native Environmental Science Department Lab Manager Jess Urbanec (Lummi) was honored as a Sequoyah Fellow at this year’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) national conference in Spokane, Wash.
The designation — named for the Cherokee citizen who perfected the Cherokee alphabet and syllabary in 1821 — recognizes fellows for their commitment to the AISES mission, STEM and the Native American community.
“When I had that ribbon placed around my neck, I just felt so honored. It was beyond belief,” she said.
Fellows are honored with a lifetime membership to AISES which can be purchased or given as a gift by a sponsor. Jess was sponsored by long-time AISES member Sheila Lopez.
“To be a Sequoyah is really an honor. It’s like being a part of a super special club. And if you’re sponsored, it’s not just given casually,” she said.
Joined by her daughter Kateri and granddaughter Tida, she attended sessions at the conference, the Sequoyah breakfast and a powwow to celebrate new members.
Urbanec, who is the first graduate of NWIC’s Bachelor’s of Science in Native Environmental Science degree program, was invited to her first AISES conference in the 1980s by physicist Jerry C. Elliott High Eagle — one of the first Native Americans to work at NASA and contributor to the Apollo 13 rescue mission. Like at her most recent conference — three generations of women in her family were present: her, her mother Freda, sister Anita and daughter Kateri.
When she became a student at Northwest Indian College in the early 2000s, she joined NWIC to the AISES conference in Anchorage, AK.
“That’s where my adventure started,” she said. “It’s always recharging to be around my fellow Native nerds. It gives you a Tribal sensation.”
Jess was also joined at AISES by NWIC staff Stephanie Bostwick and Lisa Redsteer