Meucci Ilunga


Meucci Watchman Ilunga, a 20-year-old Zairian-Diné member of the Dear Spring and Red Running into Water clans, will graduate summa cum laude from the University of Arizona with a degree in Biochemistry. Meucci is from Kinłichíí, AZ, a small village in northern Arizona and one of the Navajo Nation’s 110 chapters. Drawing from the experiences of his mother—a former sheepherder—and his father—an immigrant from central Africa, Meucci has longed hope to live up to the example of service that both of his parents set for him growing up.

Meucci has been a volunteer peer mentor for Native American students at Carrillo elementary school, a dog-walker and kitten-socializer at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, has devoted time to the UA Astronomy Department’s MESCIT tutoring program,  served as a departmental ambassador for the UA Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and has lead efforts within his tribe to revitalize his culture through new technologies such as machine learning and geographic information system technologies.

In addition to his commitment to service, Meucci is an avid student of the biological sciences. He first started doing research in the lab of Drs. Christina Laukaitis and Robert Karn in the UA Cancer Center, then later in the lab of Dr. Michael D. L. Johnson in the UA Department of Immunobiology under the NIH Maximizing Access to Research Careers program. He also spent a summer at MIT studying computational protein techniques in the lab of Dr. Amy Keating.

Meucci has received many awards during his time at the University of Arizona. A sample of these distinctions includes earning the Navajo Nation’s prestigious Chief Manuelito scholarship for academic excellence, the UA’s Wildcat Excellence Award, and earning thrice the American Indian College Fund’s Full Circle scholarship.

Upon graduation, Meucci plans to go on to graduate school and to pursue a PhD in the field of synthetic biology—hopefully managing to bring the Diné idea of Hozhó along with him.

2020 University of Arizona awards:

(1) CBC Outstanding Biochemistry Senior
(2) College of Science Galileo Circle Scholar
(3) Dean of Students Nugent Award