Dr. Naomi Lee (Seneca), AISES 2018 Professional of the Year Awardee (http://woc.aises.org/content/dr-naomi-lee-2018-professional-year-awardee-seneca)
In addition to becoming the first Native American Military General, Captain Naomi Lee intends to improve Native health through biomedical and vaccine research, STEM education and mentoring.
Her dynamic identity is her greatest asset. Integrating her different sides—Seneca Indian, medical researcher, PhD student and captain for the U.S. Army National Guard—was once a significant challenge. Today, she owns the full spectrum of her identity, and allows her cultural heritage and each area of expertise to empower one another.
“I call myself Future Doctor General Lee Indian Princess,” Lee laughed, “because those are all the hats I wear right now. I’m aspiring to be the first Native American General. All of those identifies, I try to meld together and not keep them separate from each other.”
Lee was recently featured in a video recorded in honor of her 2018 Professional of the Year Award, given by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). The award was presented at the 2018 AISES National Conference, which took place October 4-6 in Oklahoma City. AISES is a national, nonprofit organization focused on substantially increasing the representation of Native peoples in STEM studies and careers. At the University of New Mexico, John Hopkins University, the Yakama Nation of Washington and more, Lee actively supports STEM programs for Natives in early outreach and support. Learn more at AISES.org and watch the below video, courtesy the AISES Youtube channel.
As the senior platoon trainer for the National Guard, Lee wears a captain’s hat. “She’s responsible for providing the candidates with the discipline and the tactics piece of the overall training,” said Major Warren Maestas, New Mexico National Guard.
A soldier added: “She’s in charge of turning us from a regular soldier into an officer.”
As a researcher, Lee has focused on improving HPV vaccine effectiveness, particularly among Native women, who tend to be diagnosed with different strands of HPV than the average woman in the United States. “The most common types of HPV are not what is found here [among Native women],” said Marcia O’Leary, manager of the Missouri Breaks Industries Research.
Angela Wandinger-Ness, PhD, professor of pathology at the University of New Mexico, states in the video: “Naomi’s a rockstar, because she does it all. She is interested in supporting Native American students, the next generation; she does interesting research on vaccine development, and she’s translating her research at the bench into communities.”
Lee’s prior project, at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, focused on “the identification and development of potential Neisseria gonorrhoeae candidates using virus-like particles to display peptide libraries.”
Safe to say, Lee knows a thing or two.
“I grew up on a reservation. I never thought, being from where I’m from, that this is where I’d be now,” she previously said. Lee is a testament to the power of pursuing one’s dreams without sacrificing any facets of one’s identity.
Read more about Lee in the Fall 2018 issue of AISES’ Winds of Change magazine.