Going the Distance

Shiyenne Yazzie found her path in the School of Radiologic Sciences Outreach Program.

Distance doesn’t intimidate Shiyenne Yazzie. In fact, she thrives despite it.

Living in Red Valley, Arizona, a community in the heart of the Navajo Nation known for its striking red-rock terrain, it’s a long drive for essential items or even doctor visits.

She estimates the nearest doctor to be “an hour, maybe 45 minutes” away.

So when she decided to join the radiography program at Weber State University, an institution 450 miles away, distance wasn’t the issue.

Shiyenne YazzieGaining skills to provide for her growing family was.

About six years ago, Yazzie attended another university to pursue an electrical engineering degree. Being the first of her siblings in college, she found higher education difficult to navigate. After being poorly advised, she realized she had taken the wrong prerequisites.

Soon after that, she learned she was pregnant.

“My whole mindset changed,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to bring a kid into this world. I have to provide somehow. I have to know that he’s going to have a stable future.”

Yazzie took a year off school to work a retail position to help pay tuition she still owed. After her son was born, she discovered WSU’s School of Radiologic Sciences Outreach Program.

“I looked at the prerequisites that were needed, and I had most of them,” she said.

With her next tax return, Yazzie finished paying her tuition balance and returned to school to complete the remaining prerequisites for WSU. To increase her chances of being accepted, she volunteered in the radiology department at Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility in Chinle, Arizona. While volunteering, she helped clinicians learn short Navajo phrases and used her language skills to aid older Navajo patients who did not speak English.

Yazzie started WSU classes this past fall. “I am so grateful that I am where I am today,” she said.

She takes classes online and meets with instructors in Phoenix once per month. The School of Radiologic Sciences offers a similar program in Montana as well.

Yazzie looks to her mother, who raised her and her three siblings as a single parent, and her boyfriend, Mitchell, who encouraged her to pursue education, for inspiration.

She hopes to inspire her son and younger siblings by taking her education the distance.

“After I graduate with my Associate of Applied Science and become a registered RT [radiologic technologist], I want to keep going to school at Weber State for the CT/MRI program,” she said. “After I’m done, I want to go into a specialty for my master’s degree.”