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Shay Downey ’22 Receives Udall Scholarship for Tribal Public Policy

Shay Downey '22 smiling in front of tree with pink flowers and green grass.

Shay Downey ’22 has been honored with a Udall Scholarship, which recognizes commitment to Native American nations and the environment. 

“As a first-generation, low-income student from rural Oklahoma, I never could have imagined going to a college like Swarthmore,” says Downey, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Tahlequah, Okla., who aspires to be a children’s advocacy attorney. 

A cognitive science major, she joins 54 other sophomores and juniors from across the U.S. who exhibit leadership and public service.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to be connected with such a robust group of Udall Scholars who care so deeply about issues related to tribal policy and indigenous prosperity,” says Downey. “Udall fellows are students who are committed to enacting change for the environment and Indigenous relations, and I’m honored to be a part of that cohort.”

Downey is one of just 10 students named a Udall Scholar in tribal public policy. The scholarship will allow her to build on her Lang Opportunity Scholar project, which advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous women and aims to expand resources for survivors. The crisis, which many have labeled an epidemic, saw 2,758 Indigenous women reported missing or killed in the first half of 2018.

“I’m incredibly grateful that I can now build even more community partnerships,” Downey says, “to gain perspectives from the most informed people on this issue.” 

More than 400 students from 48 colleges and universities applied for the scholarships, which were decided on by a 16-member independent review committee. Scholars gain access to the Udall Alumni Network, an association of change-makers; five days of orientation and network building in Tucson, Ariz.; and up to $7,000 for academic expenses. Downey cites the “tremendous amount of guidance” from Professor of Engineering Carr Everbach as key to her Udall Scholarship application and relishes her connection to the College community.

At Swarthmore, Downey also has concentrations in music and theater. She chairs the Native American Heritage Month Committee and is involved in the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association. 

“The opportunities I have been given are incredibly enriching,” says Downey. “I am abundantly blessed to be a part of Swarthmore’s community, where I am surrounded by one of the most supportive groups of people I have met.” 

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