Determined to find solutions for the challenges communities face throughout the country, 10 inspirational students from Oklahoma’s colleges and universities were recognized as 2017-18 Newman Civic Fellows during the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education meeting Thursday.
Katherine Davis, Northern Oklahoma College; Jack Nickelson, Northwestern Oklahoma State University; Cody Milner, Oklahoma Christian University; Shelbi Gambrell, Oklahoma State University; Jessica Villar, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City; Rhyder Jolliff, Rogers State University; Ashton Shepler, Rose State College; Devin Smoot, Southwestern Oklahoma State University; Rebecka Snyder, Tulsa Community College; and Jaylon Thomas, University of Central Oklahoma, are among 273 students from 36 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico who comprise this year’s Newman Civic Fellows.
The Newman Civic Fellows program was established by Campus Compact in honor of co-founder Frank Newman, who dedicated his life to creating opportunities for student civic learning and engagement. The award is designed to recognize college students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for the challenges faced by communities across the nation through service, research and advocacy. Each of Oklahoma’s fellows will receive a $500 scholarship from Oklahoma Campus Compact. Students are nominated by their college or university president.
“The State Regents commend these student leaders for making a difference in their communities,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “Their civic involvement demonstrates their dedication to making the world a better place. We wish them continued success as they complete their degrees and continue to serve their fellow Oklahomans.”
Davis, an NOC sophomore biology/zoology major, shares her passion for science with students of all ages. She is president of the science club and develops age-appropriate science experiments for local elementary school students. She also tutors in the science lab and volunteers as a faculty assistant. Outside the classroom, she serves as president of the President’s Leadership Council and leads many community service activities.
Nickelson, a senior at NWOSU, has excelled in his course work while helping with his family’s farming and ranching operation. He coaches youth soccer and serves as a recreation assistant for his church. Nickelson plans to pursue a doctorate in political science and teach at the collegiate level, where he will guide students through the rewards of civic engagement.
Milner is a third-year honors student at OC. An elected student leader and scholar who is politically and socially engaged in his community, he is currently focusing on economic solutions for inner-city poverty and criminal justice reform to put nonviolent offenders back into the workforce.
Gambrell, a sophomore elementary education major at OSU, was appointed by the dean of her college to serve on the Professional Education Council as an OSU representative. Her project, Letters of Gratitude, involves a system of personal emails from former students and colleagues to teachers who made an impact on their lives, with the goal of bestowing honor and helping teachers realize the magnitude of their work.
Villar, a first-generation college student attending OSU-OKC, is pursuing a nursing degree while working at a local hospital. In high school, she completed more than 700 hours of service as a tutor at a local elementary school through AmeriCorps and has participated in OSU-OKC’s Upward Bound program. She also has volunteered as a campus recruiter, helping prospective students and their families understand the path to degree completion, has staffed freshman orientation activities, helped students acclimate to the campus environment, and mentored students by providing encouragement and resources to those with varying levels of family support.
Jolliff is a second-year student at RSU. An active, engaged student leader committed to meeting community members’ essential needs, he has initiated donation drives to help meet such needs as clothing and nutrition. He chartered and is president of a community service fraternity on campus and is currently partnered with Read Across America, local animal rescue organizations, homeless shelters, senior centers, veterans centers and Habitat for Humanity.
Shepler is a RSC student who leads by example to support and advocate for animal welfare. She identified an issue within the agriculture and veterinary community to raise public awareness for racehorse retirement and has worked tirelessly since the age of 13 with the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Program to rehabilitate and rehome retired racehorses. She also volunteers at a rehabilitation farm where retired horses are kept during recovery from injury. She is the president of the Pre-Veterinary Medicine and Animal Welfare Club on campus and organizes volunteer opportunities with local rescues and shelters.
Smoot is a computer science major at SWOSU. He is involved in the Blue Thunder Alley project to develop the SWOSU Higher Performance Computing Cluster for undergraduate research. He was selected to represent SWOSU at a meeting with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center researchers to establish research collaborations, which resulted in research awards. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he also has been active in developing the computer network at his church. Because of his Native American heritage and through tribal security work, he gained insight into the need for education applicable to current job markets and consequently developed a goal to begin a nonprofit organization to teach programming and computer skills to minorities in Oklahoma.
Snyder, a student leader at TCC, is a sex trafficking survivor. Through her involvement with The Demand Project, she works to prevent other women and children from the same horrors she endured for 10 years. Her volunteer work has allowed her to speak with law enforcement and lawmakers about the need to better prosecute sex trafficking crimes and effectively identify and protect victims.
Thomas is a junior at UCO, where is he an active leader in increasing the retention of black males on campus. Through the Black Male Initiative, he provides tutoring services and works to teach black males about their identity in society and advocates for their success in higher education. He currently serves the Black Male Initiative as an intern, where he and his counterparts are exploring the possibility of creating a living-learning community that would give black males a safe space and support system they can use to navigate their undergraduate experience. He also is involved in community efforts to resist police brutality by formulating research questions that will help relieve hostility between law enforcement and the black community.