Mentor of the Month: Nina Wampler, DSc, MPH
How did you get involved with NRMN?
I am a Native American epidemiologist who has worked with Spero Manson, PhD. I also serve on the Native American Affairs Committee of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) with David Burgess, PhD. I think Spero and David were instrumental in starting NRMN, so I signed up last fall to be a mentor.
Which of NRMN’s program(s) have you participated in?
I participated in an NRMN grant-writing workshop with Spero Manson in Denver two years ago. I also have been a mentor for the past seven months in the NRMN mentoring program.
Describe your role in mentoring and tell us a little about your experience in that role.
NRMN-sponsored grant-writing program: I attended the workshop as a participant to learn more about what is involved in writing grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health. I wanted to use social network analysis as a team-building tool to help young Native Americans become successful in biomedical research. I began the process of writing my proposal, but my son was hospitalized and I had to put the grant proposal writing aside to help him.
Have you participated in other similar programs in the past? If so, how was your experience with NRMN different or unique?
Yes, I had participated in a National Cancer Institute grant-writing workshop several years ago. The NRMN grant-writing workshop I attended in Denver was so much better. We had Native mentors who helped us one-on-one to develop our ideas and shape them into an outline for the grant proposal. The plan was to continue working with our Native mentor throughout the process of grant submission, etc. I do regret having to put aside the grant-writing, but my family comes first.
If someone called you and asked, “Why should I become involved with NRMN?” how would you respond?
I would tell them that it is so very worthy of their time. Whether they are looking to become a mentor or a mentee, I think NRMN is a wonderful opportunity. The online platform is really great. Watching the videos about how others have benefited from the mentoring process is really valuable. The videos are great at guiding both the mentee and the mentor through the process.
How has your experience with NRMN changed the way you approach your career in the sciences?
I have really learned a lot from NRMN about how to be a good mentor and how to help the next generation come into the field of biomedical research. I took notes for myself about what I learned, so I can refer back to those notes when I move forward as a mentor in biomedical sciences.
Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
When I was a post-doctoral student with Spero Manson, PhD, in the Native Investigator program, I developed a survey about breast cancer screening for a Lakota tribe in South Dakota. I worked closely with the director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) there and with his staff’s help, I mailed the surveys to the women in the community. We offered a financial incentive to women to get them to mail the survey back to me. I analyzed the data about breast cancer knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, then shared that report through a presentation at the IHS clinic, as well as at the Northern Plains American Indian Cancer Summit, Rapid City, SD.
What makes you an ideal mentor?
As the first person in my family to go to college, I know what it is like to have a family that cannot afford tuition, to have to work hard to prove that I am just as smart as the non-Native students. My experience as the mother of two children, juggling full-time work and graduate school at the same time, makes me a good mentor for women who are facing similar circumstances. I know what it is like to have to get up early in the morning before the kids wake up, just to get work or homework done before getting them off to school. I also know what it is like to have an unmarried female non-Native graduate advisor who was more interested in what my current boss was doing than what I was struggling with as a mom working full-time and taking graduate courses. Having been through these life experiences makes me an ideal mentor.
Each morning, what do you look most forward to in the day?
Each morning, I thank the Creator for the coming day. I look forward to doing my best to help others with whatever they are dealing with.
Is there anything you’d like to share about yourself with a potential future mentee?
I would share with any potential mentee, that if I can make it, you can make it. I will be happy to share my life experiences with them and see if I can give them advice that helps them.
What is your current position?
My current position is as Chief Operations Officer of Noqsi Aerospace, ltd. My husband and I are, what my husband calls, “The world’s smallest aerospace consulting company.” My position is very part-time which leaves me lots of time for mentoring, swimming, reading, painting and gardening.
Anything else that you would like to share?
I would very strongly recommend to others that they join NRMN, as a mentor or a mentee!