Usually, I am the one conducting the interview, but a few weeks ago my role changed. I was not the person asking the questions, I had to answer them. Boy, it was harder than I thought it would be. But I did it, and I was asked to post them on our website.
What are the most satisfying aspects of your job?
Working in communities and with students is by far the most satisfying aspect of my job. I always learn a lot from them that I could never learn in a class. I also love to see finished products, and there is nothing more satisfying than working on an evaluation report, publication, or presentation and completing it in the best way possible. When people that I work with feel proud of a product or project, and I am involved in some way, this is satisfying to me.
Do you rely on others to achieve your goals? If so, who are your most important partners or collaborators?
That is an interesting question. Early in my work, I was just a lone evaluator. I did not have a team really, and I had to do most of the work myself. That was hard. As we have grown, I have learned that evaluation is part of a team effort and that achieving goals requires multiple people to be on board. I have broad goals within AKA, for example, building community capacity for evaluation. How does that happen? I am learning that to achieve this goal. I have to have multiple people involved, from communities that have that same vision. The vision I have is that communities will be transformed in some way by the work we do at AKA. That is a big task, and what does transformation mean? How could an evaluation transform? I believe it is by giving people new information about what is happening in their communities that results from an evaluation. Transformation also comes from learning about strengths. Transformation can come from finding out weaknesses within a program or project that we identify through an evaluation. My most important partners are the people that work at AKA. The AKA team is growing and spans from program specialists, elders, educators, and designers. Everyone on the team has a place in the process that helps us reach our goals. Rarely is anything achieved by just one person. AKA collaborates with the organizations that we work with. It takes collaboration to get the work done, especially in times of COVID-19 and minimal ability to be in the community, doing data collection, teaching about evaluation, and building relationships that are critical for success. With that in mind, our partners are the clients we serve, so tribal, universities, federal organizations, non-profits, and individuals. At times we will reach out to other organizations, like states for data that we need or specialists to find out more information about something, but these are not really partnerships, just people who are helping us along the way. Our real partners are the people we work with every day to bring evaluation to communities in a powerful way.
How did you become interested in work that promotes American Indian health?
I was working in a remote area of Alaska. I had never really known about American Indian or Alaska Native health issues or their unique needs as a population. I recall sitting in a town meeting, the elders spoke Inupiat, and they were passionately talking about the changes in migration patterns of caribou due to oil development. I remember looking around at the village we drove to on a temporary ice road, thinking that life is different here, and therefore what determines health is different too. Health is a value, but the land, the people, culture, language, and traditional practices of the village make up health as a value too. That was when I became interested, or maybe curious is a better word. About a year after that meeting, I interviewed for a job at Rocky Mountain College to teach environmental public health at four tribal colleges. I got the job, and that was about 16 years ago. I have never looked back. What has kept me in American Indian health is the relationships I have with people and the trust we have. It is not unusual to get a call on the weekend from a former student or community member or to have people and their families come to my home (s). We have lived in a lot of places. The question of what determines health- what conditions are necessary to promote health or take away from our health- this has been something that I think about a lot. That drives my interests in social determinants of health-focused evaluation and programs. There is a considerable need for evaluation and research with American Indian communities that tells us what works, elevates the issues, and advocates for health equality and equity. I think the needs are what get me up in the morning and push me through the day. What are you looking forward to accomplishing in the future? I haven't thought about this until now. I live from day to day. But I know the future is big. I see that. I am looking forward to growing the AKA team and taking on diverse projects in places I have not worked with and with organizations I do not know. This is where growth can really happen. I am also looking forward to doing more training, writing more, and spending time with my family in Oregon. I work from home, so my work and my home life are often the same. I don't get away from work, ever. I am definitely looking forward to accomplishing balance.
Big ideas for the future. Working with communities to develop their own evaluation teams. Training organizations in how and why to do an evaluation. Recruiting more students to be involved and starting with students in elementary or middle school so that evaluation is a common term they know and love—retreats for the AKA team where a group of like-minded people come together to plan and rejuvenate.
Also, I am looking forward to the warm handoff for projects that end. There are several that are ending in the next year, and I am looking forward to closing the projects out in a good way so that the impact of the program is visible for many years to come.
Any other thoughts and comments, could be anything?
If an evaluation is about finding value and health is something that we value, evaluation should be part of what we do. It is not, and it is usually an afterthought. The problem is that some people want to continue to do what they have always done, even if it doesn't work. This is where we are at in the world. It is about finding a better way to do things that work and leaving what does not. That takes people and organizations that see beyond daily operations. It takes a mindset that together, we can make changes that heal. I believe the process of evaluation has the power to find what works and use what works to improve people's lives in our world.