TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — One unique senior graduating from the University of Arizona this week has big goals in mind. They are rooted in his passion for both science and his Native American heritage.
In our conversation on campus, KGUN 9 talked to Omar Solís Acuña about the importance of celebrating scientific contributions from cultures not often talked about in classrooms.
Solís Acuña knows what he wants to do first as a professional educator. "I'm planning on teaching in public schools," he shared. "I think a lot of times, people say that we need to change education, but they don't really take it upon themselves. So I'm going to be in the field, trying to make those connections."
Early in his college career, Solís Acuña said he knew his knowledge in biochemistry would make more of a difference in a classroom instead of a research lab.
He's honed his ability to connect with high-school students by volunteering as a mentor with a UAriozna group named Native SOAR, which stands for "Student Outreach Access and Resiliency."
"I think a lot of time with teachers, they just focus on teaching the subject rather than building the students' confidence," he expressed. "I feel like if a student has confidence, they will be able to achieve anything they put their mind to."
Solís Acuña's family on his father's side is Pascua Yaqui. He said when he was little, his dad would share stories of his childhood, of learning customs and living off the land.
"I didn't take it seriously because, I wasn't really aware at that time about being indigenous means," he revealed.
In his own journey learning more about his heritage, Solís Acuña said he thinks school curricula can and should do a better job at teaching students from and in tribal communities.
Particularly, he said, about the inventions and technology their ancestors created and fine-tuned, like pigments and pottery.
"They were really scientists like ourselves," he said. "My job is: how can we 'indigenize' chemistry? Bring those heritage ties within science?"
Solís Acuña told KUGN 9 he knows the work ahead may feel daunting.
"My dad was a teacher himself a little while, so he knows the struggle that I'm going to be going through," he said.
Still, he said, he's ready and able to add more professional preparation. Once he's earned his Bachelor's degree, it's only a brief pause before he starts working toward his Masters' in education and adding more experience sharing his passion with students.
"I want to be a resource for them, to show them... I think a lot of times," Solís Acuña said, "They feel not confident in the future and I want to show them that it's OK if you don't know what you want to do."
Even in the future, hard work and mentoring won't stop there.
Solís Acuña plans to earn a Ph.D. one day so he can help lead and write grants for programs that celebrate students' identities as they explore their interest in STEM careers.
José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to in-depth investigations on COVID-19 relief fraud, toxic chemical spills impacting rural communities, and community programs positively impacting immigrant families and their children. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.