Early grad applies skills as cancer researcher

Courtesy photo
Meucci Ilunga, a Navajo research student at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, explains details of a poster for a study on genomes in mice to another Navajo student.


A Navajo student graduated early from Window Rock High School, but college brought a whole new challenge and pitted his skills against a deadly scourge of his people – cancer.

“It does hit me hard, because I know that this is a disease among many others Native Americans are disproportionately affected by … and so for me it really is an emotional experience, because I know that whatever I do here could have direct implications for my people,” said Meucci Ilunga, who graduated a year early in 2016. “That is inspiring for me,” he said, “but it also gives me a little bit of fear.”

Ilunga, son of a Congolese father and a Navajo mother, grew up in Kinlichee, Arizona. He kept a straight 4.0 throughout middle school and into high school, where he graduated a year early after an appeal to the governing board of the Window Rock Unified School District. By the time he requested early graduation, he had 26 credits — four more than the 22 required to graduate, had already been accepted at 11 academic institutions, and had been dual-enrolled at Diné College since the second semester of 2015.

He took that level of academic success and applied it at the University of Arizona, where he sought bachelor’s degrees in both applied mathematics and biochemistry, with a minor in Spanish. He set out to maintain the same level of academic excellence, but college showed the stripes of a different animal than his previous academic experience.

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Categories: People

About Author

Christopher S. Pineo

Reporter Christopher S. Pineo's beats include education, construction, the executive branch, and pop culture. He also administers the Navajo Times Facebook page. In the diverse neighborhoods of Boston, Pineo worked, earned a master’s in journalism, and gained 10 years of newspaper experience. He can be reached at Chrisp@navajotimes.com.