When Christine Benally was a high school student in Shiprock, N.Mex., on the easternmost edge of the Navajo Reservation, her educational goals went no further than getting a vocational degree--as her father, a mechanic, did before her and as many of her friends would do, as well. "I figured something like that would do me," recalls Benally. "Get a technical degree, get out fast, start earning money."

Yet some 15 years later, Benally has a doctoral degree in environmental toxicology under her belt and is teaching science and chemistry at the community college where she earned her technical degree. Following her high school graduation in 1977, Benally enrolled in the Tsaile Navajo Community College in eastern Arizona, earned an associate degree, and found a job as a medical lab technician. The work got monotonous after a few years, however. "I got bored with it," she says. "You were capable of...

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