I wish I could say I had a plan for going into physics and engineering, but that’s not the case,” says Franklin Dollar, a recent University of Michigan–Ann Arbor PhD. Instead, he applied to all kinds of engineering programs because of the opportunities available and because he thought it “sounded cool.”

Growing up was not always easy for Dollar, Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians, who spent much of his childhood moving around California. When Dollar was in middle school, the family moved to the Dry Creek Rancheria reservation. “My home was like many other rez experiences,” he says. “We lived in a trailer; we had no telephone or run- ning water. Commodity food and drinking water were provided by the tribal office.” Growing up with two brothers and a sister, he is one of the first in his family to go to college. As soon as Dollar could work he got a job at a drugstore and was im- pressed that his manager could afford a car and a house. 

He knew he wanted to get there too. But once Dollar got to college, he became convinced that his acceptance must have been a mistake — after all, he was not at the top of his high school class of only 38 people. But a talk with his high school science teacher reassured him.