NCRE Scholars

Cohort 12 (2023-2024)

Headshot of JessicaJessica Saucedo (Mexican Indigenous Heritage)

PhD student, Michigan State University

Jessica Saucedo was born and raised in Southern California to Mexican immigrant parents. Her parents are from Sonora and Baja California Norte, Mexico. She had the privilege of visiting her family and communities in Baja California Norte and Sonora throughout her upbringing, grounding her in her Mexican Indigenous heritage. In 2018, she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal Poly Pomona. Soon after graduating, she began her doctoral studies in Ecological/Community Psychology at Michigan State University. She currently lives and works on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg with her fiancé, Alan, and their cat and two dogs. They love the beauty and calmness of winter, so they often walk, snow tube, and play with their dogs in the snow. Outside of winter, they enjoy soaking up the Great Lakes’ sun and greenery through biking, kayaking, and spending time outdoors with family. Jessica’s NCRE Scholars work will focus on the impact of Native culture and language on the development of preschool-aged Indigenous children and implications for long-term substance use prevention.

Headshot of SharnelSharnel Vale-Jones (Lingít from Yakutat)

PhD student, University of Alaska Anchorage

Sharnel Vale-Jones, Yaagál, Lingít from Yakutat, is a member of the Kwaashk'IKwáan (Raven, Humpy Salmon) and Dis hítdaxáyáxat (Moon house). She is also the daughter of the Teikweidí (Eagle, Brown Bear) and a granddaughter of the Kaagwaantaan (Eagle, Beaver). As a dedicated scholar and advocate for Indigenous health, her professional journey reflects her unwavering commitment to better understand Indigenous communities' unique psychological needs and resilience strategies.  She holds an MS in Clinical Psychology and is currently pursuing a PhD in Clinical-Community Psychology.  Her primary research interest lies in exploring resilience strategies within Indigenous communities, specifically regarding child and adolescent development. This line of inquiry has been influenced by her lived experience in rural Alaska. Her growth was woven by the hands of her parents, aunts, uncles, and clan elders, who played integral roles in her upbringing. Their collective wisdom and intergenerational guidance laid the foundation for her approach to community service, instilling in her the values of respect, reciprocity, and responsibility towards her people and the land they inhabit.  Sharnel’s NCRE Scholars work will focus on the roles of parents, maternal and paternal aunts, uncles, clan elders, and other important caregivers in child-rearing to understand how these unique practices shape resilience within Indigenous communities. Her work will inform the development of culturally tailored interventions to reduce the prevalence and impact of developmental and substance use-related disorders in Native communities.

Headshot of ChelseaChelsea Wesner (Choctaw Nation)

DrPH student, Colorado School of Public Health

Chelsea Wesner (she/her) is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. She was born and raised on a family farm/ranch in Kiowa County, OK and moved to Norman, OK as a pre-teen. She is a mother to two beautiful children and has lived with her family in South Dakota for the last decade. Chelsea is grateful to have worked with Indigenous communities for more than 15 years across public health practice and research in her current role at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health and others at the University of South Dakota, University of Oklahoma, and CDC’s Native Diabetes Wellness Program. She earned a BA in sociology and American Indian studies from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2006), an MPH and MSW from the University of Oklahoma (2010), and a graduate certificate program in American Indian health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2020). Chelsea enjoys cooking, gardening, live music, and reading historical fiction. Chelsea’s NCRE Scholars work will focus on conceptualizing and measuring early relational wellbeing and family economic wellbeing among Indigenous families with young children. This research focuses on understanding positive child development from an Indigenous perspective and has potential for informing early substance use and disorder prevention.

Cohort 11 (2022-2023)

Cassidy Armstrong

Cassidy Armstrong (Muscogee [Creek] Nation)

Phd Student, Oklahoma State University

Cassidy Armstrong is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and is currently a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at Oklahoma State University (OSU). They grew up in Texas and completed their Bachelor's degree in Psychology at Oklahoma State University in 2020. In their free time, Cass enjoys spending time in nature, cooking, curling up with a good book, being active, and traveling.

Currently, Cass is a member of the Cultivating Opportunities that Lead to Equity (COLE) Lab at OSU and works under the mentorship of Dr. Ashley Cole. Cass's research broadly focuses on health behaviors and health inequities among Native populations from both resilience and risk perspectives, with specific emphases on the intergenerational transmission of trauma, historical trauma, and substance use, centering on resilience and protective factors. Cass uses mixed methods in research to incorporate qualitative and quantitative perspectives and has an interest in expanding their knowledge in Indigenous research methodologies to inform their future career path. 


Cole, A. B., Armstrong, C. M., Giano, Z. D., & Hubach, R. D. (2022). An update on ACEs domain frequencies across race/ethnicity and gender in a nationally representative sample. Child Abuse & Neglect.

Cole, A. B., Armstrong, C. M., Rhoades-Kerswill, S., Lopez, S. V., & Elm, J. (2021). Suicide among American Indian/Alaska Native populations. In E. Jeglic, & R. Miranda (Eds.), Handbook of youth suicide prevention: Integrating research into practice. Springer. 

Graziosi, M., Armstrong, C., Cole, A. B., & Reilly, E. E. (2021). The spiritual dimensions of American Indian life: Considerations for clinical practice. Behavior Therapist. 

Heather Jean Gordon

Heather Sauyaq Jean Gordon, PhD (Iñupiaq-Nome Eskimo Community)

Principle Consultant, Sauyaq Solutions

Heather Sauyaq (Soy-ugkh) Jean Kwamboka Gordon is the owner and principle consultant at Sauyaq Solutions, working with Indigenous Tribes and communities on research, evaluation, and technical assistance. Heather was born and raised in Homer, Alaska. She is Iñupiaq and an enrolled Tribal member of the Nome Eskimo Community, a federally recognized Tribe. Her Iñupiaq name is Sauyaq which means drum. She works to be a good relative and  advocate for Indigenous people, beating the drum to lift up Indigenous voices.  The Sauyaq or drum is used at all gatherings and ceremonies to bring people together. In some Iñupiaq dialects the word for ‘skin’ of the drum also means ‘future eye’ relating to the ‘eye of awareness’. Heather married into a Kenyan Kisii Tribal family and was gifted the name Kwamboka which means crossing a bridge. She was gifted this name her second visit to Kenya when she was able to move between her own and the Kisii culture.

Heather holds a has a BA in Race and Ethnic Studies (University of Redlands, CA), an MS in Sociology and Community and Environmental Sociology (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and a PhD in Indigenous Studies with a concentration in Indigenous Sustainability (University of Alaska Fairbanks). In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with family, practicing her subsistence culture, and reading. She was born and raised just outside beautiful Homer, Alaska on her grandmother's reindeer ranch. 

Prior to devoting her time fully to Sauyaq Solutions, she was employed at Child Trends in the Youth Development program, working to improve Indigenous children, youth, and family well-being. Heather was an evaluator in the Division of Program Evaluation and Planning at the Administration for Native Americans in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF)  before Child Trends. She has served as a subject matter expert on working with Indigenous people and in that capacity advised the ACF on their work around missing and murdered Native Americans, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) on methodologies appropriate to working with Indigenous people and other vulnerable and minority populations, Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) on drafting the Arctic Research Plan (ARP) 2022-2026, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on documents and work around Indigenous Knowledge.



Gordon, H.S.J., & Zukowski, A. (2023). Indigenous Community Projects: Addressing Colonization through Using Culture as a Protective Factor. International Indigenous Policy Journal. 14(2). 

Gordon, H.S.J. (2023). Current policy landscape prevents subsistence protections and practices necessary for Alaska Native children and families’ well-being. Child Trends. 

Gordon, H.S.J. (2023). 5 ways that subsistence practices support Indigenous child and family well-being. Child Trends. 

Gordon, H. S. J., Ross, J. A., Bauer-Armstrong, C., Moreno, M., Byington, R., & Bowman, N. (2023). Integrating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge of land into land management through Indigenous-academic partnerships. Land Use Policy, 125, 106469.

Gordon, H.S.J. (2022). Alaska Native subsistence rights: Taking an anti-racist de-colonizing approach to land management and ownership for our children and generations to come. Societies 12(3), 72. 

Gordon, H. S. J., & Datta, R. (2021). Indigenous communities defining and utilizing self-determination as an individual and collective capability. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 23(2), 182-205. 

Gordon, H. S. J. (2021). Ethnographic futures research as a method for working with Indigenous communities to develop sustainability indicators. Polar Geography 44(4), 233-254. 

Nicole Reed

Nicole Reed, MPH (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)

Project Director, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Nicole Reed was born and raised in Broken Bow, Oklahoma and is a descendant of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with a BS in Health Education and Promotion, and later earned a Master’s degree in Public Health. She is currently attending the University of Colorado, Colorado School of Public Health as a candidate for her Doctor of Public Health. When not working or studying, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, and spending quality time with her partner and dog, Averi.   

Currently, Nicole is the Project Director for Native WYSE (women, young, strong, empowered) CHOICES research team at the University of Colorado's Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health. This project is an mHealth intervention via phone app to help reduce alcohol exposed pregnancies amongst urban Native young women and to help them make the choices that are the best for them and their future goals. Previously, she was a grant coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Community Wellness Programs to help reduce the non-medical use of prescription drugs in Tribal communities through policy, prescription drug take-back programs, and community awareness. Her research interests include adolescent Indigenous health, sexuality-related health disparities, the intersectionality between sexual health, and ATOD use.


Reed, N.D., Peterson, R., Ghost Dog, T., Kaufman, C.E., Kelley, A., & Craig Rushing, S. (2022). Centering Native youths’ needs and priorities: Findings from the 2020 Native Youth Health Tech Survey. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 29(3), 1-17. 

Boland, S.E., Homdayjanakul, K. J., Reed, N.D., Wesner, C., Kaufman, C.E. Jackson, L., & James, K.A. (2021). Addressing the cycle of inaction: A DrPH student perspective on the decolonization of public health. Harvard Public Health Review Journal, 35.

Tuitt, N.R., Shrestha, U., Reed, N.D., Moore, R. S., Sarche, M., & Kaufman, C.E. (2022). Virtual research with urban Native young women: Cautionary tales in the time of a pandemic. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action, 16(2 Suppl), 77.

Meena Richardson

Meenakshi Richardson, MPH (Haliwa-Saponi Tribe)

PhD Student, Washington State University

Meenakshi is a citizen of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, born in Virginia and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Meenakshi received an MPH with a focus on community health education from Bastyr University. Prior to becoming a graduate student in the Prevention Science doctoral program at Washington State University, she was serving tribal and urban Indian communities through health and human services, Indigenous informed systems of care and research, as well as integrating Traditional Indian Medicine practices into direct services.

Meenakshi focuses on the study and practice of cultural teachings in relation to Western praxis, specifically substance use and suicide, to identify and inform community-based prevention and intervention strategies. She aims to examine how risk and protective factors are associated with behavioral health outcomes at different social and ecological levels. She has managed and coordinated research projects and service programs focused on suicide, homelessness, substance use, youth resilience, and gender-based violence prevention. Currently, she is a collaborator on several research projects, including a cultural adaptation and pilot study of a caregiving intervention, working with families with young children in a tribal community to minimize toxic stress and strengthen caregiver-child attachment. She also collaborates with clinicians and practitioners focused on coalition building, anti-racism education, multi-generational stress and coping, and the development of culturally grounded interventions and prevention modalities among Indigenous communities.


Richardson, M., Big-Eagle, T. & Waters, S. F. (2022). A systematic review of trauma intervention adaptions for Indigenous caregivers and children: Insights and implications for reciprocal collaboration. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy

Previous cohorts

Centers for American Indian & Alaska Native Health

Colorado School of Public Health

CU Anschutz

Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building

13055 East 17th Avenue

Mail Stop F800

Aurora, CO 80045

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