Cherella Hughes '12

Chemistry Student at Fort Lewis College

"In order to prepare yourself for college, you need to go beyond expectations, really absorb the information that is being taught and understand the subject matter. Being prepared for college is in your hands, not your teacher’s."


From summer internships at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC to semesters studying chemistry at Fort Lewis College in the mountains of Colorado, Cherella Hughes ‘12 hasn’t spent much time on the reservation lately. But her time away from home is worth it if it means fulfilling her dream of becoming a pharmacist. We sat down with Cherella to learn about what motivates her on the path toward a college degree and a future helping her community live a healthier life.


Q&A with Cherella Hughes '12

Cherella, welcome back to Red Cloud! Since graduating you went on to study at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. How is the experience so far?

Originally I had wanted to go to a big school somewhere, but ultimately decided that that would be too much of a culture shock for me. After being at Red Cloud and getting to know everyone in a smaller setting, I decided I wanted something more like that for my college experience.

I first heard about Fort Lewis College from my mother—she went there for a semester. After visiting the school, I knew I could learn and grow there. To me, Fort Lewis is almost like Red Cloud; it’s possible to know just about everyone and it feels close-knit. The teachers are accessible and friendly, and you feel like you’re part of a community.

Also, Fort Lewis has a Native American tuition waiver, which was really helpful for my family and me. It’s always nice to come out with less debt and it’s something that can make a college education more accessible for Native students.

Has it been a challenging transition to move away from the reservation?

It helps that Fort Lewis has a large Native population and a Native Center, which made the transition to college easier. There are also a few Red Cloud graduates there: Art Vitalis ‘08 and Daisa One Feather ‘10, as well as another from Little Wound School. So, I knew I would have friends as soon as I got there and having them around has really helped with any homesickness. I know one day I’ll live at home again, so for me, honestly, it’s only four years of my life and I think it’s worth it. And I’m gaining new experiences with new people and challenging my comfort levels.

How did Red Cloud influence your path to college and where you are today?

During my junior year, I took Wendell Gehmen’s second chemistry class. Because the labs had been recently renovated and had so many new features, Wendell would give us a lot of opportunities to experiment and learn in the labs. With all the new equipment we would often be given a problem to solve and Wendell would turn us loose to make use of the lab in finding our own solutions.

After graduating in 2012, Wendell helped me to get into an internship program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington, DC. Again, I found that I really enjoyed working in a lab. It was that experience that really solidified that I wanted to study chemistry in college.

What are you hoping to accomplish with a degree in chemistry?

After Fort Lewis, I’d like to attend graduate school and get my Doctorate in Pharmacology. Ever since I moved to Pine Ridge when I was ten years old, I remember being curious about the medicine I would take every time I got sick. As I got older I wondered why I couldn’t take certain medicines with others and how those issues might affect the bigger picture of health on the reservation.

I’ve always wanted to help out at home, whether it was with the basketball team, or when a friend organized a community clean up project. I think that desire to help, and my interest in chemistry and medicine has translated into an interest in studying pharmacology. Ultimately I want to return home to the reservation to support my community.

So will you come back to the reservation right after graduate school?

Once I become a pharmacist, I’d like to get experience in a variety of places. For example, I can see myself working at a hospital in Denver for a few years and later at a Walgreens in some small community. I think it would be valuable to see the reality of pharmacology in diverse settings so that eventually I can bring that knowledge home and put it to use here on the reservation. Even if I can only improve our local Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital a little, I know that would go a long way towards improving the community.

Many Red Cloud students are hoping to follow in your footsteps, and pursue careers in science. What advice can you share with them?

I want students at Red Cloud to really engage in their learning while in the classroom. Going to college is challenging. In order to prepare yourself for that challenge, you need do more than just listen and do your work during high school. It’s easy to memorize the content and spit it back out on your test. You need to go beyond expectations, really absorb the information that is being taught and understand the subject matter. Being prepared for college is in your hands, not your teacher’s.

When things get challenging, what inspires you to keep working toward your dreams?

I think all of my interest in pharmacology and medicine has to do with my role models. My mother is a nurse at IHS. She has given me a perspective of the health industry and her good work at IHS has shown me what you can accomplish with hard work. My older cousin is also pharmacy technician. She is one of the first people who got me thinking about working in pharmacology. I have always looked up to both of them and dreamt of working with them as an adult.

Related Links

Fort Lewis College
Fort Lewis College's Native American Center
Fort Lewis College's Native American Scholarships & Tuition Waiver
Red Cloud Country Article on Cherella at NIH 

Photo: Cherella, center and Savannah Jensen '14 right at NIH
last updated: January 15, 2014