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2023 Udall Scholars

OSU students honored in 2023 Udall Scholarship Competition

Friday, May 5, 2023

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Senior Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

Kaitlyn Pinkerton has served in many roles: student leader in the Oklahoma State University Center for Sovereign Nations (CSN); president of the Native American Student Association; community mentor; OSU Residence Hall Board of Director member; and as Miss American Indian OSU. 

Now, she is OSU’s 20th Udall Scholar. 

The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship honors the legacies of Morris and Stewart Udall, whose careers had a significant impact on Native American self-governance, health care and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources. 

Students selected as Udall Scholars are invited to join an esteemed group of top student scholars from across the nation, said Elizabeth Payne, director of the Center for Sovereign Nations at OSU. In addition to receiving a scholarship, Udall Scholars join a unique network of current and alumni Udall Scholars.  

Pinkerton was selected as a 2023 Udall Scholar in the Tribal Public Policy category. A political science pre-law junior from Pryor, Oklahoma, Pinkerton plans to get a master's degree in public policy next, she said.  

“I want to go on to law school,” Pinkerton said. “After law school, I plan to return and work for my tribe in some capacity.” 

A member of the Cherokee Nation, Pinkerton has hands-on experience in tribal governance, serving as a legal intern, executive administration intern and youth leadership intern. 

“Being a Udall scholar means a lot to me,” she said. “It's a great recognition of the hard work I've put in these past few years, and I'm super appreciative of the opportunity to grow that being a Udall scholar gives me.”  

Pinkerton was named a Civic Leader Fellow through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in 2022, where she focused on important topics such as food insecurity and economic policy in preparation for a position in civic leadership.  

Pinkerton has also been recognized as a United National Indian Tribal Youth 25 Under 25, and she was awarded the National Indian Health Board Youth Leadership Award as well as the Cherokee Phoenix Seven Feathers Award for her mental health advocacy in Native communities.  

For Pinkerton, the support she received from OSU and her peers was critical. 

“I decided to apply mainly because of my support system through the Center for Sovereign Nations, where quite a few of my peers, as well as the director and assistant director, encouraged me to just apply for the institutional nomination, and when I got that, kept encouraging throughout my national application,” Pinkerton said. “I honestly don't think I'd have even applied without their support, so I owe a lot of it to them.” 

Caleb Garcia — a junior from Wyandotte, Oklahoma, majoring in economics pre-law — was awarded an honorable mention in the Tribal Public Policy category. 

Garcia has held leadership roles in the Native American Student Association and in the Center for Sovereign Nations at OSU, where he has participated in OSU’s annual powwow, prepared and served Native American dishes in celebration of Indigenous People’s Day. Most recently, Garcia was named Mr. American Indian OSU 2023. 

A member of the Wyandotte Nation, he is committed to preserving the future and strength of tribal nations, he said. Garcia was also selected as his tribe’s flagbearer at the 2022 Sovereignty Symposium hosted by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.  

After graduating from OSU, Garcia plans to attend law school and serve as an advocate for the economic independence of tribal nations, he said. 

“I hope to go to law school after graduating from OSU, and practice tribal law,” Garcia said. “I want to help out tribal nations who might not have as well of a government setup as others.” 

Garcia hopes to continue his work with his tribe and others after graduating. 

“There's a lot of inequity inside tribal nations that not a lot of people know about,” Garcia said. “People just don’t know that tribal nations are still in Oklahoma. Not a lot of people know that over two-thirds of Oklahoma is controlled by Native tribes.” 

Both students being recognized in the area of tribal public policy is fairly unique, Payne said. 

Payne said students awarded the Udall Scholarship in tribal policy must demonstrate leadership and public service by participating in cultural activities and service to their community as well as demonstrating their commitment to a career related to tribal policy. 

“Kait and Caleb are recognized leaders in service to their tribal communities and to their OSU communities as well,” Payne said. “Their commitment to creating a sense of belonging for students extends across many campus organizations and activities. 

“Creating community and a sense of belonging for students is central to the center’s mission. Our strategy for creating community has evolved in recent years. As an example, the center team expanded our digital and social media presence to ensure that our community remains strong whether a student joins us in person or online.” 

Payne hopes to continue to see the center evolve and grow as students do. 

“In addition to offering several ways for students to earn college credit, OSU offers a variety of opportunities for students to receive academic and programmatic support. Our center team is committed to learning about new offerings as we grow and evolve alongside our students,” Payne said. 

For Payne, the resilience demonstrated by students who persisted through the pandemic also warrants consideration. 

“It is important to note that students who continue to make progress toward academic and personal goals, do so against the backdrop of pandemic disruption and loss,” Payne said. “The students we serve today had a very different high school and early collegiate experience than those who came before them. 

“Aligned with OSU’s strategic imperative to compete with integrity and excellence, while consistently being awarded national and international scholarships, center students have been awarded four national Udall Scholarships and five Udall Scholarship Honorable Mentions since the center began seven years ago. We are grateful for the opportunity to both serve and learn from these students.” 

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