Friday, August 19, 2022

Celebrating women in STEM: Dr. Linda Burhansstipanov

Oct. 14 was Indigenous People’s Day, and this week we celebrate American Indian contributions to the United States’ culture and society.

Just last year, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American women elected to Congress. But Native American life today is not all celebratory. 

Lack of resources like healthcare and paying the unequal costs of climate change and pollution endangers the Native American population. One Native American woman in STEM is fighting the battle against cancer in her community: Dr. Linda Burhansstipanov of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Burhansstipanov grew up in one of the worst situations a child could be in; her father was physically abusive. As a child, her mother told her, “If you stay in school, Linda, you won’t ever have to put up with living like this.” 

Burhansstipanov took her mother’s advice to heart. She worked several jobs to put herself through college, including working at Taco Bell. She completed her bachelor’s in health education from California State University at Long Beach in 1971. Just three years later, she had both a masters in public health and a Ph.D. in health education from the University of California, Los Angeles, under her belt.

During and after her graduate programs, Burhansstipanov taught health sciences at both CSULB and UCLA. In 1973, she became an assistant professor at CSULB, reaching associate professor in 1978 and professor in 1988. She also worked with the American Society for Allied Health Professions, the South Bay Free Clinic and the Los Angeles American Indian Clinic, Inc.

Her early research focused on childhood development, student health and violence against women, but her work with cervical cancer patients at the American Indian Clinic brought cancer research into view.

In 1989, Burhansstipanov joined the National Cancer Institute to develop and lead the Native American Cancer Research program.

In 1993, Burhansstipanov became the director of the AMC/AIC Native American Research Consortium. She also acted as a consultant for the National Native American Researchers Cancer Control Training Program, the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center and Native American Health.

During her five years with the Native American Research Consortium, Burhansstipanov developed a Native Sisters program to help Native American cancer patients navigate the healthcare system more effectively. In the Native Sisters program, a trained Native Sister works with the patient throughout the treatment process to ensure they receive the best and most culturally-competent healthcare.

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Emily Larner ( for more information.

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