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Native American students win Udall Scholarships

April 06, 2009

Two ASU juniors, both Native American students, plan to reach out to their communities in different ways after they receive their degrees. Both have won Morris K. Udall Scholarships to help them advance the lives of other Native Americans.

Christa Lee, 22, a nursing major who also won the award last year, is a member of the Navajo Nation who wants to provide quality health care to her people, advocating and influencing policy so all Native Americans can have better access to health care. She’d like to become a certified nurse midwife.

Robert Howard, majoring in accounting and American Indian Studies, is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe who hopes to help shape and strengthen the overall structure and financial health of the tribe. Now 37, Howard was once the tribe’s youngest tribal vice-chairman. But he returned to college after realizing he didn’t have the educational background he needed to make good and effective decisions.

Lee and Howard are among only 80 students to win $5,000 Udall Scholarships, awarded to sophomores and juniors who plan careers in environmental public policy, tribal policy and health care. In the past 13 years, 24 ASU students have won Udalls.

Lee was influenced by the death of her father from alcoholism when she was six years old, and the strong role model provided by her mother. She has volunteered and worked in three Indian Health Service hospitals, noticing the significance of body language, facial expression and familiar language when working with elderly patients.

She was moved to discover that American Indian expectant mothers were 3.6 times more likely to have begun prenatal care in the third trimester or not at all than non-Hispanic whites. Lee hopes to get a master’s in nursing and work as an RN for five years before seeking out ways to influence policy through administration.

Howard’s family also was impacted by alcoholism, and he grew up in an adoptive family and later a group home for delinquent youth. He was unsuccessful in his first attempt at college. But he went back to work with his tribe, persuading them to use casino profits to host a monthly “elders luncheon” for the elderly to socialize and communicate with tribal officers.

He wants to improve tribal business policies, centralizing planning and analysis for the casino, telecommunications and tribal ranching. He hopes become an enterprise coordinator for the tribal council, to centralize financial information and lessen the tribe’s dependence on outside consultants. Eventually he would like to earn a degree in tribal law.