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Meet The Scientists

Pictured from left to right:Kenneth Swift Bird, Ian Gambill, Alan Kolok

Environmental scientists have joined the COPE Citizen Scientist Project through AGU Thriving Earth Exchange. Supported by DigDeep, this project will support youth in the Four Corners region answer the question, "Is My Water Safe?" by training them in water testing and helping them share findings back to their communities. The youth will be matched with site mentors from local education and public health sectors, who will help them identify and test water sources in the community. Safe water resources will be promoted with signage and outreach. In the unlikely event that any water sources are found to be unsafe, the MEQ team will help highlight the need for improvement and work with the community to find ways to address the issues.

In this 4-month program, Youth Citizen Scientists will learn how to carry out the scientific inquiry of water collection, understand the results, and use the information to promote and increase access to clean water in their communities. Citizen Scientists will receive training on water and health, Diné teachings about water, the principles of water collection and testing, and receive monthly stipends.


We are thrilled to highlight the environmental scientists that will be collaborating and guiding our Water Citizen Scientists work. We asked them a few questions, read their responses below:

Kenneth Swift Bird

I grew up in Chadron, Nebraska, a border town of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I’m an Oglala Lakota tribal member and most of my family still lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I have a bachelor's degree in Geology from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and a master's degree in Hydrology from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. I’m currently a first-year PhD student in Hydrology at Colorado School of Mines. I have worked as a geologist for a private company, and I’ve also worked as a hydrogeologist for the Colorado Geological Survey. My interest in Hydrogeology was sparked by water contamination and water scarcity issues where I grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and I plan to focus my career on addressing water issues in Indigenous communities.

What is your role in this project?

I work as a project scientist, which involves developing a water sampling plan, working collaboratively with community leaders, and eventually training youth citizen scientists on hydrology, geoscience concepts, and water sampling methods. Once sample collection is complete, we’ll work to analyze our results and work to disseminate results back to the community in an accessible and compelling format.

What are your hopes for the recruited Youth Scientists?

I hope that youth scientists have a positive and fun experience, gain a better understanding of hydrology and geoscience concepts, and see that these tools can be used to address problems in their communities.

What does success look like at the end of the project?

For me, a successful project will delineate areas with safe drinking water, present data, and scientific findings back to the community in a meaningful way, and continue to build a collaborative, sustainable partnership for future work to address heavy metal impacts on the Navajo Nation.

Ian Gambill

My name is Ian Gambill, and I was born in Tuba City, AZ. My clans are Reed People and Mexican People. I lived nearly half of my life in Kayenta, AZ, which is 70 miles north of where I was born. The other half of the time, I was mostly in Colorado. After moving to Lawrence, Kansas ten years ago, I got my BS in Environmental Science from Haskell Indian Nations University. I then worked for the U.S. Geological Survey for a year. When I was offered an opportunity at Colorado School of Mines, it was impossible for me not to accept it. Now, I am in my second semester of my MS in Hydrology.

What are your hopes for the recruited Youth Citizen Scientists?

My hope for the Youth Citizen Scientists is that their experience sparks an interest in science, especially water-science. I hope that meeting the other scientists and me will show them that they can become a scientist if that is what they want to do.

What does success look like at the end of the project?

Success, for me, looks like a strengthened trust in drinking water sources on the Navajo Nation.

Alan Kolok

I grew up in Connecticut. I have degrees from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio (Bachelor's degree), the University of Washington (Master's degree) and the University of Colorado (PhD).

What is your role in this project?

I am one of the Thriving Earth Exchange volunteer scientists. My role is to provide expertise regarding water quality evaluation and community engagement relative to this project. I am here to provide whatever type of advice or information is needed at the time for the product to meet the desires and concerns of the community.

What are your hopes for the recruited Youth Citizen Scientists?

I would like to see the youth scientists get a better understanding of what science is all about. It is often a surprise to students what real science involves, but the sooner that they can become involved in it, the better.

What does success look like at the end of the project?

A successful project is one where the community is satisfied with the outcome. This could be different from community to community, but it could involve both a better understanding of the risks associated with contaminated water, or it could involve educating students in environmental science so they can make informed decisions regarding career opportunities in the future, or both.


We hope to share with you more on the project development, as well as, highlighting the site mentors and recruited youth scientists. Click here to learn more about our Water Is K'é work on Navajo Nation.



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