Published: Nov. 16, 2023 By

Nazhoné MorganNazhoné Morgan
When senior Nazhoné Morgan first considered computer science, it was through shadowing a marketing vice president at a web and app development company. 

Morgan, who uses he/she/they pronouns, watched the intricate process of moving a concept from design through launch. 

"I'm a very crafty person, and I thought that web development was a good middle ground between technology and creativity," they said.  

However, as they have gone through their studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, their passions have deepened and widened into such spheres as cybersecurity, network systems and app development.

A large array of computer science 

In their cybersecurity class, Morgan has been learning how to hack.

"I think that it's really cool to manipulate how code works and think outside of the box in order to take advantage of it," they said. 

Their appreciation for network systems has been fueled by joining the First Nations Launch through CU Boulder's chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). 

"I had to teach myself avionics from scratch," they explained. Avionics — the term for electronic instruments used in aviation and astronautics — control the remote deployment of multi-stage rockets, such as the one AISES launched this past April

"It was so cool being able to have the freedom to do what I wanted," they said. The launch was successful and won the group a grand prize trip to the Kennedy Space Center. 

Through the ATLAS Institute, where they minor in creative technology and design, Morgan is also working with Teaching Assistant Professor Annie Margaret on an app. The app's goal is to help people reflect on their values, which meshes well with Morgan’s other minor in philosophy. 

"I'm excited for when we actually get to launch and I can see my work in an app that anyone can download," they said. 

An overflow of community

Morgan's journey through CU Boulder has been made easier by their fiance, their AISES community and meeting mentors like NASA's Aaron Yazzie. 

"My fiance has been there through my entire college education. They're supportive of everything I do and they've helped me go out and try fun things. I really appreciate them and I love them," Morgan said.

Morgan tried to go to AISES as a first-year student, but they were just too busy. Later on, when they started going to every meeting, they were struck by what a welcoming and tight-knit group the club was. 

"It's so cool to meet a nice little community like AISES and connect over indigenous identities and everything, especially because at CU I rarely see indigenous people," Morgan said. 

Biomedical engineering student Evie Clark and Kaylan Madrid, an aerospace and women’s studies major, from the AISES leadership team also helped Morgan network with people from NASA, including Aaron Yazzie, a Navajo (Diné) mechanical engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

Pointing to Indigenous identity 

Morgan's grandparents and parents were discouraged from embracing their indigenous identities due to racism and discrimination. However, in Morgan's life, this forced assimilation has begun to lift. Their parents took them to powwows and other cultural events, and they began to learn more about their own history.

In high school, wanting to connect more with their culture, they started an Indigenous Culture Club with the Adams County K-12 school district. And as time has gone on, they said they feel more connected to their identity as Navajo (Diné) and Apsáalooke. 

"I've started incorporating the community's teachings into my everyday life, and it's had a really positive effect on my personal life and how I feel about myself," Morgan said. "I think it's important for members of the indigenous diaspora to know that they don't have to feel disconnected from the community. Even if you didn't grow up with the culture, you still have time to learn." 

Morgan is currently learning to speak Navajo, and they want to learn how to dance fancy shawl at powwows. 

When asked about their own future, they say they just want to be happy. 

"I know that I want to travel. I want to learn about other cultures. I want to learn about my own culture. I just want to live a life where I feel fulfilled and I feel like I'm doing the right things. I don't know where exactly I'm going, but I'm going somewhere and hopefully I'll be happy," they said. 

When asked about the larger world, Morgan said they believe it's time to listen to indigenous voices.

"Educate yourselves about the ongoing genocide and colonization of indigenous people, and understand that colonizers are not always going to tell the truth," they said.