Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce  series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.
Guest blog post by Helena Carapellatti, Statistician, U.S. Census Bureau
I work as a statistician in the Human Resources Division at the U.S. Census Bureau and my responsibilities include reporting on Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results for the bureau and working on policies and issues related to excepted-service field data collection employees.
I grew up on the Navajo reservation spanning parts of New Mexico and Colorado. We lived off the grid and were ranchers with livestock that needed daily attention. Summers meant camping on the outer parts of our land and sleeping under a blanket of stars. We explored on horseback and lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle free from the world outside the traditional Navajo culture. This lifestyle meant my brothers and I learned to be responsible and self-sufficient at an early age. Being the only girl in the family meant I had to be fearless if I wanted to keep up with all my brothers.
When I graduated high school, there were no opportunities on the reservation so I enlisted in the military. The military offered me an opportunity to pursue higher education and to serve in an honorable profession. I started going to school part-time and got an Associates degree in Logistics with the Community College of the Air Force. Later I got a B.S., in Social Science with a minor in Journalism. I made some lasting friendships and after 25 years, I retired and completed my M.A. in Applied Sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Outside the workplace, I help my husband with our small business most weekends. When you are in business, you have to be willing to adapt so you can provide the type of service that sets you apart. We have to network, be informed and sensitive to the economy just like our customers so it is a constant balancing act to remain competitive in an ever-changing market.
My first mentor was my father, a survivor of Omaha Beach and a uranium miner. He faced many adversities throughout his life and from him I learned to view adversities as challenges to overcome. He once told me that a college education would mean working in a clean, climate-controlled environment and avoid having to labor in the elements. I do not know if he told me that because I was the runt of the family but I have never forgotten it. Even when he retired, he continued to work as a rancher and made a decent living from the sale of wool, mohair and lambs.
Native American Heritage Month is a time for people to learn about us within the context of contemporary culture so people can see that, not only are we still around, but that we are more than the historical figures of the past. Because our numbers are small and some of us are isolated so we do not have a big presence on the national stage, Native American Heritiage Month provides an opportunity for our fellow Americans to learn about other aspects of our unique American history and culture. Often people do not know I am Native American and for years, people told me I was the first Native American they had ever met. That means I find myself dispelling people’s misconceptions. For example, people are usually surprised when I tell them English is my second language, that higher education is not free for us, and that I pay taxes.
I would tell young Native Americans interested in a career with the federal government that education is key. Take advantage of internship programs to explore career options. Do not dismiss your life experiences because surprisingly those skills may help get you where you want to go. For example, the tenacity I used to overcome difficult situations was the tenacity I acquired keeping up with my brothers so many years ago. Take advantage of training offered by employers to build on your knowledge and to show your willingness to learn. Networking is one way to connect with other people and get involved whether it is a professional, social or affinity group within the organization. It may offer you an opportunity to demonstrate other hidden skills or interests you have. Lastly, hold yourself accountable, it allows you to reassess and make necessary changes; professionally or personally.