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Justin Begay

Mechanical Engineering
Story originally published on Aug 2021
I was born and raised on the Navajo reservation in a small town called Shiprock near the Four Corners area of New Mexico.

One of the Navajo teachings that I’ve used here at Stanford is the idea of perseverance. My ancestors were forced off our land in 1864. They had to walk 300 miles to find a new home. People died along the way because of malnourishment and difficult weather conditions. Even when the Navajo people arrived at Fort Sumner, our designated placement, people continued to die. It would have been easy for my ancestors to give up, but they didn’t. They continued to fight for their land. And they eventually got some of it back. Today we’re back on the land where we originated from. The Navajo reservation spans from the northeastern part of Arizona to the northwestern part of New Mexico. This history has really stuck with me. Being at Stanford isn’t easy. There are challenges every day. There have been times when I thought I should go to a different school; that I don’t belong here. But every time these thoughts come up, I remind myself of the lessons of my ancestors.

One my goals after I graduate is to go back and help out my Native American community. There are a lot of socioeconomic and systemic problems in the Navajo Nation. One major problem is access to clean water. Through my classes at Stanford, I’ve learned about wastewater treatment engineering. Last summer, I worked at a Navajo engineering firm on the implementation of treatment plants on the reservation. I would love to eventually work to create wastewater treatment plants on the reservation where I grew up.

Another area where I’d like to help is in being a mentor for kids back in my hometown. So many of them don’t know what they are capable of and aren’t aware that college is an option. On top of that, the college application process is difficult and confusing. Students don’t know who to ask for help, so many end up giving up. I want to change that trend. I want future generations to better understand how to navigate the college admissions process, so that they can get a high quality college experience and bring their knowledge and skills back to the reservation to make it a better place.

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