ASU honors student dreams of giving back to his community as a pediatrician for Navajo children

ASU student Jonah Holiday at the 2023 SACNAS conference.

Jonah Holiday at the 2023 SACNAS conference. Courtesy photo


Arizona State University honors student Jonah Holiday takes inspiration for his education, community service and future profession from his parents and grandmother.

A junior medical studies major, a student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, and Mr. Indigenous ASU, Holiday is following in their footsteps as he pursues his dream of serving the Navajo Nation in a medical career.

Both his parents are ASU alums. His mother graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2017 and his father received a degree in public administration in 2002.

“They heavily encouraged me to look at ASU as the university to attend and to take my education very seriously,” said Holiday, a member of the Navajo Nation who grew up in Tuba City, Arizona.

His grandmother worked for years as a nurse specializing in diabetes education for Navajo patients, helping them manage their conditions and integrate Western medicine into the Navajo lifestyle. 

“Her stories of how she would bring hope to patients who were completely lost were always something that captivated me when I was a child,” said Holiday, who aspires to be a pediatrician caring for children on the Navajo reservation.

“Like my grandmother, I also feel that with my background on the reservation, I can bridge the gap between the Navajo culture and Western medicine,” added Holiday, a Chief Manuelito Scholar.

That commitment to education and service is the through line for Holiday’s undergraduate academic and extracurricular activities and the basis for the inspiration he passes on to others as Mr. Indigenous ASU, a yearlong role he was elected to last spring.

“I feel it’s super important to inspire others and make sure they know they can achieve many things, like getting a university degree. My job as Mr. Indigenous is to spread awareness that we, as Indigenous people, despite setbacks in the past, can still accomplish great things today,” he said.

Holiday, along with Ms. Indigenous ASU and their First Attendants, frequents community events to promote Native American leadership, cultural awareness and higher education. They’re all part of the Ms./Mr. Indigenous at ASU Committee, a student organization whose mission is to “promote the ideals of the Native American community nationwide, with dignity, grace and friendship.”

Holiday has appeared at several events, including the White Mountain Apache Tribe Fair and Rodeo in Whiteriver, Arizona, and the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona, both in September, and the Western Navajo Fair in Tuba City in October. He also has spoken with Native American schoolchildren from Shiprock, New Mexico, about opportunities at ASU and celebrated student achievements at ASU’s spring 2023 American Indian Convocation.

Holiday’s next appearance will be at the ASU West Valley campus Pow Wow and Salute to Service on Nov. 11, where he’ll participate in the festivities and help with a Navajo hamburger and frybread fundraiser.

“It’s really cool to be able to represent my community and ASU, and promote advocacy and education for Native American students. I feel really proud when people respond in a positive way,” he said.

In addition to representing ASU in the community, he has been working as a Seciwa assistant with ASU American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS) for three semesters, where he helps develop resources for students and coordinate professional development and cultural events, tutoring sessions and the American Indian Convocation.

He has extended this student engagement work to Barrett Honors College at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, where he assists with information sessions and events for Indigenous students.

“It is super key to make sure there are initiatives in place for Native American students to be able to apply to Barrett Honors College,” he said.

“The honors college allows Native students to have the opportunity to develop themselves during their undergraduate years in order to set them up for graduate school,” said Holiday, who is considering attending medical school in Arizona or Utah.

“I tell them about the support network the honors college has in place for all students, the close connections and collaborations you can get there, and about how the honors college has enabled me to have my personal voice heard and encouraged me to advocate for Native American people,” he said.

Amid his activities as an honors student, AISSS assistant and Mr. Indigenous ASU, Holiday took time out last summer to participate in the Native American Summer Research Internship, a 10-week program for university juniors and seniors interested in health science research. The paid internship program at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Holiday researched factors contributing to mortality and morbidity among pediatric burn patients in low- and middle-income countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

“I feel like this kind of study about middle- to poor-income communities could be translational and applicable to figuring out how I can implement what I learn in projects and programs in the Navajo community,” he said.

“In addition to the research, the great thing about this internship was the focus on Native American students and meeting people from other tribes who are interested in medicine and the representation of Native American physicians in all areas of health care,” he added.

In October, Holiday presented a poster about his research at the Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference in Portland, Oregon.

With all of his accomplishments and contributions to the community, Holiday sees himself more as a guide to others than a role model.

“I don’t really want for other students to be like me. I want them to see in me the possibilities of what they can accomplish. I want them to see what’s great about themselves, think about what they can do and move forward,” he said.

“I always tell them not to stress about the past or the future, but stay in the moment and focus on the opportunities that are in front of you.”