by Faith Price, Assistant Director


Out of the hundreds of students who apply every year to be a Udall Scholar, Emma Johnson (Cowlitz) was one of only 5 in the nation selected for a scholarship in Udall’s Tribal Policy category for 2018. Johnson is a senior in cultural anthropology at WSU Vancouver.

Group in front of Distinguished Scholars gallery outside Terrell Library.
Emma Johnson (center) being recognized at the WSU Distinguished Scholars Celebration with April Seehafer and Butch.

She was studying abroad this past spring when she found out she had been selected.

“It was 2 am and I was in a hostel with friends. I woke up and saw like three messages. The first one I read was ‘Good morning, Udall Scholar’ and I was freaking out,” Johnson said.

The messages were from April Seehafer, the director of WSU’s Distinguished Scholarships Program. Johnson and Seehafer had become close over the time it had taken to draft, edit, and rewrite Johnson’s application to the Udall Scholarship Program.

“I’d say it was like 6, 7, 8 drafts?” Johnson told students in the WSU Native Center who had gathered to hear about her experience.

“It’s hard to write about yourself, and in a way that Emma would say is ‘bragging’,” said Seehafer, adding that she had to encourage Johnson to expand on her experiences. “That was three drafts right there.”

Johnson and Seehafer visited the WSU Native American Student Center in October to encourage others to apply for the Udall Scholarship. Johnson was on the Pullman campus to be formally recognized by WSU for her achievement.

It was no easy feat to win a Udall scholarship. Johnson applied once as a sophomore and wasn’t selected. She said she wasn’t going to apply again but was convinced by Seehafer.

“My application changed so much over a year,” said Johnson.

The first time she had applied, Johnson had nothing to write about in the research section of the application. She rectified that during the year between applications, engaging in an undergraduate research project. She also gained experienced working for her tribe.

“I think the difference between her first and second applications was how much experience she gained,” said Seehafer, noting that Johnson sought out opportunities that made her application more robust.

Besides winning a noteworthy scholarship, the application process was beneficial to Johnson’s academics.

“It helped me become such a good writer, it’s insane,” said Johnson.

The scholarships are worth $7,000, plus travel to a 5-day scholars orientation in Arizona, and access to a network of former scholars and mentors.

“Everyday I get 5 emails for jobs all over the U.S. for Udall Scholars,” said Johnson. “It’s a very good family to get into.”