Drisanna Watson earns Native American Research Internship in Utah

Drisanna Watson will begin her Native American Research Internship (NARI) at the University of Utah a couple of weeks after wrapping up her 19-credit spring semester at the University of Maine.

The 10-week paid summer experience supports academic, career and personal development of Native American students interested in health science careers. A goal is to increase the diversity of health care providers and researchers to better treat and heal diverse populations.

Watson, a native of Walnut Creek, California, is a member of the Yurok Tribe.

She’s on pace to complete her bachelor’s degree in sociology and minor in Native American studies in December 2019. Watson’s passionate about making a positive difference or change in Native Americans’ lives.

One way she wants to do that is as a nurse with understanding of Native American cultures. She already has a solid base.

Watson was enrolled in UMaine’s School of Nursing for two years before changing her attention to sociology and Native American studies. In these fields, Watson says she’s examined herself, explored other cultures, and developed deeper perspectives and critical-thinking skills.  

During a previous internship on Red Lake Reservation with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, she sought to learn about their culture and help provide care.

“I want to find ways to help the culture heal,” Watson says. “People know what they need and I want to be able to get resources to them.”

After completing her education at UMaine, she plans to apply to an advanced two-year nursing program.

At the University of Utah from May 28 to Aug. 2, Watson will be paired with Dr. Venkata Yellepeddi in the Department of Pediatrics. He’s developing a mucoadhesive gel formula to treat children with sialorrhea — drooling or excessive salivation — which neurologically impaired children can experience.

Watson also will receive guidance about school, career development and community engagement, and in July she’ll attend the 2019 National Conference on American Indian/Alaska Native Injury and Prevention titled Violence Prevention: Bridging Science, Practice, and Culture.

In addition to her grandfather, Watson says people who have been positive influences include Elizabeth Watson, her mother who’s an assistant professor of wetlands science at Drexel University; Amy Blackstone, UMaine sociology professor; and Mary Okin, UMaine assistant professor of Franco American studies, sociology, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

While attending college can be stressful, Watson — who has dyslexia — says it’s also rewarding. She says she’s grown from challenges and experiences and is a stronger, more mature person.

In 2018, in honor of her grandmother and to acknowledge hardships of cancer patients, Watson shaved her head during the annual St. Baldrick’s fundraising event on Maine Day.

She’s also volunteered for Maine Hello — by welcoming new students to campus. Watson has traveled to England to play rugby and likes to hike, cook, draw, paint and write. Art, she says, is a gateway to the soul.

Students interested in this internship or other scholarship opportunities, can go to the Office of Major Scholarships in Fogler Library, visit its website or email nives.dalbowheeler@maine.edu.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777, beth.staples@maine.edu