Heritage Student’s Resilience and Adaptability Leads to Graduation and Beyond | Education

The road to graduation for Heritage University senior Dehlia Wolftail has had a few bumps and turns, but on Saturday she will reach the end of this chapter. The environmental science student plans to pursue a fully-funded Ph.D. at the University of Oregon.

His path went through the foster care system, Marine Corps and Heritage University. There were times when she wanted to give up, she said. But along the way, she learned to roll with the punches of life.

As someone who has lived in many places, Wolftail is dedicated to defending the home of humanity, planet Earth.

Changing environments

Wolftail spent her youth in Seattle where her environment was turbulent, she said. She and her siblings were in the foster care system there, but her aunt took them in when Wolftail was about 9 years old. Her parents died when she was 12.

Her aunt lived in Toppenish, and Wolftail enrolled in local schools, eventually graduating from Toppenish High School. Sometimes as a teenager she really didn’t know where she would end up and getting a college degree didn’t seem to be in her future, she said.

But those bumpy early years taught him how to adapt to change.

“Growing up in such a different and/or colorful environment where you kind of have to think on your feet, probably helped navigate my future self,” she said.

After high school, she found work in retail, but things got tough during the Great Recession. She wasn’t getting many hours and she knew the key to turning her life around was going back to school, she said.

Dehlia Wolftail poses for a portrait Thursday, May 12, 2022 at Heritage University in Toppenish, Wash.

Wolftail turned to the military as an option to further his education. A good friend of hers was in the Marine Corps.

“In order to give myself the best chance, if I had to be sent to a combat zone, I wanted the best training possible,” she said. “So I joined the Marines.”

While in the Marines, she received paralegal training. She was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and worked to close military cases, she said. She served four years on active duty.

Wolftail said she additionally learned to think on her feet as a Marine. She took their saying “improvise, adapt, overcome” to heart. She noted, however, that this is often easier said than done.

College experience

Due to her paralegal background, Wolftail initially thought she wanted to become a lawyer. But she fell in love with geology and took a path of environmental studies.

Wolftail received her associate degree from Yakima Valley College and enrolled at Heritage University as an environmental science major. But she only had a few months of in-person classes in 2020 before the pandemic forced everyone into remote learning.

It doesn’t slow her down much.

During his undergraduate career, Wolftail participated in numerous internships and opportunities. She studied several aspects of the environment, including soil, water and air issues, she says. Recently, she attended a conference in Oklahoma to present an air quality project she was involved in.

His adviser is Jessica Black, associate professor of environmental science and director of the Center for Indigenous Health, Culture and Environment at Heritage. She said Wolftail stood out as a student willing to say yes to every opportunity.

“She constantly shows herself to things. She takes the time to really work on it,” she said.

Black also praised Wolftail’s empathetic leadership style. She said that Wolftail is the kind of person to collaborate rather than command. She also watches over her classmates, asks them how they are and checks in on people who have missed class or work.

Next steps

After graduating from Heritage University, Wolftail will pursue a doctorate. environmental studies program at the University of Oregon. She and Black said her doctoral training would be fully funded for four years.

Wolftail has also applied for an environmental justice internship for the summer but has yet to hear about it. Her current internships and obligations keep her too busy to care, she said.

She does not yet know what career she would like. Instead, she said she wanted to keep her options open. But she is passionate about climate change issues and knows that her work will be in this area.

Wolftail said she was grateful that she never gave up on herself, even during the difficult years of her life. And that’s a message she wanted to pass on to others.

“There were times when I just wanted to give up,” she said. “But something kept telling me ‘go on, go on. There is a goal. I know you can’t see it yet, but there is a goal.'”

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