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An Indigenous First-Gen Student Finds His Calling

Student Justin Billy smiling with a blue background

Justin Billy (Navajo/Diné) looked into many different fields before choosing microbiology. As a first-generation college student, researcher, artist, and poet, Justin combines many passions to pave his own unique path as an Arizona Wildcat.


About Justin Billy (Navajo/Diné)

Major: Microbiology
Graduating in: 2021
From: Four Corners Region, New Mexico

What do you do for fun?
I enjoy painting and investing time in painting cell microscopy photos. I write poetry as a way to paint instructions for the reader with words.


Student Microbiology Lab Research at the University of Arizona

What are your career goals?
I want to search for tools that prepare us for microbiological threats we will face in the upcoming decades. I would like to pursue doctoral research in disease pathogenesis where I determine the molecular interactions microbes have with our bodies.

Did you look at other majors before choosing microbiology?
Someone could look at the classes I took my first two years and genuinely be confused trying to name what career I wanted. However, each one paled in comparison to when I first started my microbiology lab position.

What have you gotten out of your research?
I found my calling in the independence of working in a lab. In my first lab, we evaluated the presence of fungal species called Aspergillus flavus. This fungus produces one of the most potent liver carcinogens when consumed. I lead the project of cultivating the fungus from crop samples of various countries.


How Does the University of Arizona Support Native American Students?

What’s your favorite thing about the University of Arizona?
My favorite thing is how prominent the Native American community is on campus. The Native American community is given the respect and the space to engage in healthy conversations like the Voices Of Indigenous Concerns in Education (VOICE). There are opportunities given to Native American students to receive mentorships from other Native Americans students and faculty. And Native American Student Affairs (NASA) is the pinnacle.

What advice would you give future students?
Explore diverse classes because it’s tough to figure out what degree you want to pursue. Learn about the available resources on campus, especially for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) first-generation students, as there are hidden gems designed to help make you more comfortable in a completely new environment. Joining clubs also allows you to meet new people and try out new things.



The University of Arizona is proud to be named a top school for indigenous students by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Fueled by ambition and resources like Native American Student Affairs, our indigenous students are empowered to achieve their boldest dreams.

Explore Resources for Indigenous Students »

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