LAWRENCE — Tracey Funk received the good news in the middle of a Biology 152 lecture in Budig Hall, where she was serving as a teaching assistant.
The junior from Topeka received the surprise announcement from friends at the Office of Fellowships: She was the latest University of Kansas student to earn a Udall Scholarship. Another junior, Rachel Heitmann, received an honorable mention from the foundation.
The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship is a federal scholarship that honors the legacies of Morris Udall and Stewart Udall, two former Arizona congressmen whose careers had an effect on American Indian self-governance, health care and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources.
Each scholarship provides up to $7,000 for the scholar’s junior or senior year.
“It was just incredible to get the news like that,” Funk said. “It was especially cool because I didn’t think it was going to happen. And also because all those students got to see someone in their own major receive the award, so hopefully some of them will think about applying, too.”
Funk, who is majoring in ecology, evolution & organismal biology, wants to pursue a career in environmental education and outreach, developing programs to raise awareness of environmental issues. She is currently enrolled in KU’s UKanTeach program, which provides a teaching certification for STEM majors.
While she appreciates the role formal education plays, she said she felt that informal education is important for children, too.
“I would like to have those two programs support each other,” she said. “In an informal setting, you can develop a meaningful personal connection that can spark an interest in environmental issues later on.”
Heitmann, who is from Hebron, Nebraska, is majoring in environmental studies. She is currently studying abroad in Spain.
Fifty students from 42 colleges and universities were named as 2018 Udall Scholars this year, and 50 others received Honorable Mentions. The foundation received 437 eligible applications from colleges and universities around the country.
A 16-member independent review committee selected this year’s group of Udall Scholars on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, Native health care or tribal public policy; leadership potential; record of public service; and academic achievement.
The 2018 Udall Scholars will assemble in August in Tucson, Arizona, to meet one another and program alumni; learn more about the Udall legacy of public service; and interact with community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care and governance.
The Office of Fellowships, a unit in Undergraduate Studies, coordinates the process for nominating scholars each year. Twenty KU students have received the award. 2017 KU Scholar Tomas Green was part of the group who surprised Funk in class.
“We’re proud of the commitment of these two students to environmental issues and are pleased the Udall Foundation recognized this as well,” said Anne Wallen, program director for the Office of Fellowships, who worked with the students on their applications. “Students like Tracey and Rachel are inspirations to their peers and show how much KU students can accomplish.”
Students wishing to apply for next year’s scholarships must go through a campus nomination process and should contact the Office of Fellowships.
Tracey Funk (top photo) is the daughter of Steve and Sue Ann Funk of Topeka and is a graduate of Shawnee Heights High School. At KU, she has been involved with undergraduate research in the KU River Ecology Lab, the University Honors Program, KU Scholarship Halls and the Marching Jayhawks. She has completed internships with the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center and with the Friends of the Kaw.
Rachel Heitmann is the daughter of Darcy Heitmann and Anne Heitmann and is a graduate of Thayer Central High School. At KU, Foster has served as proctor and environmental chair of Miller Scholarship Hall, as a Koinonia Retreat Team Leader and the Marching Jayhawks. She has worked at Camp Tekakwitha of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and completed an internship with the Land Institute in Salina.