Junior industrial engineering and engineering management student Vaughn Vargas from Rapid City, South Dakota has been awarded the $5,000 Udall Scholarship, one of five prestigious, national programs established by the U.S. Congress—the Harry S. Truman and Barry Goldwater scholarships among them.
Vargas, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is the first South Dakotan since 2011 to receive this distinction and only one of 15 since 1996. He is also the first South Dakota School of Mines & Technology student to ever become a Udall scholar.
The $5,000 scholarship comes with a four-day orientation in Tucson, Arizona, where Vargas will meet with other scholars from across the country, elected officials and environmental and tribal leaders.
“Vaughn is such a talented and humble young man with brilliant ideas and vision, and we are honored to have him as our first Udall scholar,” said Carter Kerk, Ph.D., industrial engineering professor and assistant to the provost for Native American initiatives.
After graduation, Vargas hopes to help lower the poverty rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a consultant for businesses and governmental entities looking to expand operations to tribal land. “To help protect and further the interest of trial residents, I would also like to conduct government-to-government mediation concerning major environmental threats and policies, as well as economic development.”
“The best students at Mines can compete with the best students anywhere,” said Heather Wilson, president of the School of Mines. “We are very proud of Vaughn, and I know this scholarship will help enable his continued development as a leader.”
Vargas has been awarded a multitude of honors during his academic career, first at Oglala Lakota College (OLC) and Black Hills State University, then at his current university, the School of Mines. He has been Mr. AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Consortium) 2013, Student of the Year at OLC, a National Science Foundation Tiospaye Scholar and a NASA Space Grant Recipient. He has also earned the American Indian Entrepreneurial Scholarship and has accepted a National Science Foundation Quality Education for Minorities internship in Washington, D.C., this summer.
An active board member of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, Vargas has also served as chapter president of the American Indian Business Leaders at OLC and as a member of the Prairie Hills Audubon Society, American Indian Science & Engineering Society, Music Center Activities Club and Institute of Industrial Engineers.
Vargas has shared his story as a motivational speaker at the OLC Student Leadership Conference, Box Elder Job Corps, ARC of the Black Hills, Wellspring Treatment Center, Awareness Counseling and Cornerstone Rescue Mission.
Established in 1992, the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation awards 50 scholarships of up to $5,000 and 50 honorable mentions annually to sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American healthcare.
Since becoming president of the School of Mines in June of last year, President Wilson, herself a first generation college student who earned a Rhodes scholarship after graduating from the Air Force Academy, has encouraged Mines students to apply for prestigious scholarships like the Udall. Last November, Mines student Travis Davis from Buffalo was the first Mines graduate to earn a Mitchell Scholarship. Davis will be studying biomedical engineering at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, next year.