Elena N. Polanco, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, has been recognized by the Udall Scholarship Foundation with an Honorable Mention.
The Udall Foundation in Tucson, Arizona bestows the Udall Scholarship on students committed to careers in the environment or for American Indian and Alaskan native students pursuing health care or tribal public policy. The Foundation is named for Morris Udall and Stewart Udall to honor their positive impact on this nation’s environment, public lands and natural resources in addition to their support of the rights and self-governance of American Indians and Alaska Native,
Polanco is UNC-Chapel Hill’s second American Indian student to be recognized by the Udall Foundation. The Udall selected 50 Scholars and 50 Honorable Mentions from among 494 candidates nominated by 224 colleges and universities.
“I am so proud of Elena and all her accomplishments,” said Amy Locklear-Hertel, director of UNC’s American Indian Center. “Elena is a hard-working Native student scholar and leader at Carolina. She holds great promise for the future of Native nations in the state and beyond. I know she is worthy of this great honor and I’m pleased the Udall Foundation believes so as well.”
Polanco, from Greensboro, aspires to earn a master’s in public policy and plans to promote both tribal economic development as well as the resurgence of traditional Lumbee arts and cultural practices. She’s a Gates Millennium and Renwick Scholar. Through her current studies as a Management and Society & American Indian and Indigenous Studies major, she hopes to concentrate her efforts on managing tribally owned natural resources, crafting tribal policy, enhancing economic strategies, engaging tribal youth through policy and preserving cultural heritage.
As Powwow Committee Co-Chair of the Carolina Indian Circle and Academic Chair and Historian of the Alpha Pi Omega Sorority, Inc., Polanco has established herself as a campus leader and Native Indian community advocate. She has coordinated several campus information sessions highlighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and the issue of land rights. She also serves as a student ambassador for the American Indian Center.
“Elena’s enthusiasm and dedication to strengthen our Native Community is inspiring. I am confident that Elena’s service will create a lasting impact for the betterment of OUR future generations. I am proud of her,” said Qua Lynch, academic advising professional at the American Indian Center.
Polanco also traveled to Washington University this year for the annual Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice Symposium. One of only two undergraduate students to present at the symposium, she spoke on the issues surrounding the Atlantic Coast pipeline and her concerns as an American Indian person living in the area through which the pipeline will travel.
“We are so pleased that Elena was selected for this honor. Elena wisely addresses environmental issues through a combination of educational and policy reforms,” said professor Inger Brodey, director of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships. “Through this two-pronged approach, she hopes to safeguard important environmental resources for future generations of Lumbees as well as other American Indian groups.”
Learn more about the Udall Foundation here: http://udall.gov/.
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