- Year In Review
Lorenda Belone is from Mexican Springs, north of Gallup, on the Navajo Reservation.She left her extended family and community for a couple of years when she moved her family to Albuquerque while using tuition remission to pursue her master’s in public health. She is pursuing her doctoral program in health communication in the Department of Communication & Journalism on a scholarhip from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Lorenda Belone is a HSC associate scientist 2 in the master’s of public health program, but that’s just a small part of her on-campus identity, and doesn’t even touch who she is when she leaves campus. Belone is from Mexican Springs, north of Gallup, on the Navajo Reservation. She left her extended family and community for a couple of years when she moved her family to Albuquerque while pursuing her master’s in public health.
“We moved back home because the kids missed their school, their animals and their grandparents,” she said.
Belone used tuition remission to complete her master’s with a concentration in epidemiology, finishing her master’s in 2004. She was accepted the following year into the doctoral program in health communication in the Department of Communication & Journalism.
In the third year of her doctorial training she was accepted as a Robert Wood Johnson Fellow. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pays her tuition now. “I was interested in a Ph.D. in public health, but would have had to go out of state to pursue it, and this was out of the question for my children” she said. Transitioning into health communication presented some challenges. “There are a handful of theories in public health at the masters level, but in C&J I am learning there are hundreds them,” she said.
Belone worked as a research assistant under then MPH Director Nina Wallerstein and has transitioned from student to staff expanding her roles on research projects with New Mexico tribal communities with direction from Wallerstein and C&J chair John Oetzel as well as a great native research team.
“My C&J training has expanded my knowledge of health communication strategies for translational research that involves the community as participants in a two way mutual learning situation to improve community health, particularly tribal communities,” she said. She notes that being a doctoral student in C&J has helped her to become a better writer. “When I had to write my first C&J papers, it would take me at least two hours to get a page written, it was difficult but I know that good writing skills are critical for working in health policy,” she said, adding, “so I accepted the challenge of improving my writing skills.”
Her work in tribal communities includes fourth and fifth graders and their parents and grandparents and the use of interventions to avert or delay risky behaviors, including alcohol use. Her project is in its fourth year and is tailored to two tribal communities. She uses a community-based participation research approach.
“We involve the community from the beginning. They are partners in the intervention because each community has different strengths and challenges. It’s the only way to address the specifics,” Belone said. She declines to name the tribal communities for reasons of confidentiality.
This spring Belone submitted two applications to the National Institute of Health to conduct similar interventions with two other tribal communities. “I am the PI on the grant submission!” she exclaimed, of her arrival as a researcher.
She has ventured into the classroom as instructor, too. She teaches Intro to Public Health at UNM-Gallup. “I always saw myself as a researcher, not a teacher. I love it! I love the student interaction,” she said, she plans to continue to teach.
Prior to her graduate work Belone worked for the Navajo Nation for 10 years in environmental policy. “I feel that Robert Wood Johnson brought me full circle because again I’m working in policy and policy changes the world,” she said. She added that the RWJ fellow is a benefit because it allows her to do her work, which is also her academic research.
Belone said that her success is not hers alone. Her family has been supportive, especially her parents, Benjamin and Louise Musket, who helped her tremendously with her four children when she was making the two and a half hour commute from Mexican Springs to UNM. “Every semester was a different schedule and they always adjusted to help me out,” she said, adding that she made every effort to be home four and a half days a week to attend sporting events and other activities her children were involved in.
Her parents, who retired from government BIA school jobs, also encouraged her in her studies. Belone is the oldest of three children. Her brother Milford Musket earned a Ph.D. and teaches in Seattle. Her sister Melvina Musket, earned a degree in political science and works at the school her children attend. “She has been financially supportive of me and my children. In the Navajo tradition, a sister’s children are considered her own as well,” Belone said.
The family’s motivation toward higher education comes from her maternal grandparents, Harry and Lorraine Belone. “My grandfather stressed with all his children and grandchildren the importance of an education. Unfortunately, he died before I finished my undergraduate degree,” she said.
Her 86-year-old grandmother also stressed education despite being unable to read, or write, or speak in English. “She was raised as a sheepherder, a rug weaver and silversmith, skills she used to care for herself and her family. Although her parents did not let her go to school, she is a very smart woman who has many talents, which she still uses to this day,” Belone said.
Belone is very proud of her children, Eric and Jessica, and their younger siblings high- schooler Jeanette and mid-schooler Megan. “Eric lives here in Albuquerque and Jessica is a Gates Scholar who completed three years of college in Michigan before sitting out this year. She needed a break from the Michigan winters. The door is open to all of them,” she said.
Belone feels fortunate to work at UNM. “In addition to the tuition, health and dental benefits are the benefits of working with interesting faculty, staff and students. All one has to do is walk through the doors that are open to them here,” she said, as she prepared to finish up for the day here at UNM and then drive the two and half hours home to be with her children.