Long-distance travels have defined Aurora Trujillo’s college career. And now that the Charlotte 49ers cross country and track-and-field athlete is graduating, Trujillo will still be going to great lengths to stay true to her people and their culture in the American Southwest.
A member of the Pueblo of Taos tribe of northern New Mexico, Trujillo has earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and is passionate about being able to help her people shape their future through public policymaking. Her trek begins next month in Washington, D.C.
Trujillo is one of 12 recipients of the 2012 Native American Congressional Internships, awarded annually to students from 12 tribes and 12 different universities.
In an endeavor unrelated to the internship, she will head to Browning, Mont., in August to help develop a physical education program at the De La Salle Blackfeet School on the Blackfeet Indian reservation.
“We’ve had a lot of success from our athletes,” said Charlotte track-and-field head coach Bob Olesen. “But nothing ever down this road before. It’s definitely unique and service-oriented.
“We’re just real proud of her accomplishment. And she’s really happy to help and lobby for her tribe.”
Growing up in a “pretty poor” family in the Pueblo of Taos community, Trujillo said her parents always told her they didn’t have the money to send her to college, but somehow they would help her find a way to attend.
Trujillo took matters into her own feet, taking up cross country running in high school in hopes of landing a college scholarship. After moving to Tucson, Ariz., with her father, she walked on at Pima Community College.
By the time she became a junior college national champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in spring 2009, Trujillo had earned her scholarship. She graduated with an associate degree and was on scholarship when she arrived at Charlotte in the fall.
As a 49er, Trujillo’s greatest accomplishments have been recording the eighth-best times in school history in both the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000- meter.
Trujillo said she was vocal and participated in all her classes. She found out about the Native American Congressional Internship, she said, from another student, who appreciated her zeal for policy making.
The internship program is funded through the Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, named for two brothers who represented Arizona in Congress.
In her application, Trujillo included a letter of recommendation from a former Pueblo of Taos tribe leader who eventually became lieutenant governor of New Mexico. It’s one of the many things she is proud of about her people.
“I come from one of the most traditional pueblos in the whole United States,” said Trujillo. “The houses we live in are the oldest inhabited buildings in the U.S. I’m so proud of my traditions and all of our customs.”
Though she’s unsure of what her responsibilities will be during the 10-week stay in Washington, Trujillo will be assigned to the office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.Mex. She will be quartered on the campus of George Washington University, a rival of the Charlotte 49ers in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
After completing the internship, and after she spends the next year in Montana, Trujillo hopes to become an advocate for Native American people in securing their history, customs and ways of life. More specifically, she hopes to reach out to youth, helping them develop through health and fitness.