Aiyana Lynch and Sonny Walton have been named 2021 Udall Scholars–marking the first time two UNC Pembroke students were honored in the same year.
The sophomores are among 55 students selected nationwide by the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. The prestigious scholarship provides up to $7,000 to college sophomores and juniors committed to careers related to the environment, tribal policy or Native American health care.
The 2021 Udall Scholars were selected from among 416 candidates at 187 colleges and universities.
A nursing major with a double minor in American Indian Studies and Health Promotion, Lynch is a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. After graduation, she plans to return home to serve members of her tribe in Hollister, N.C.
“I don’t know many people from my tribal community who work in the nursing field,” she said. “I was never seen by a Native nurse growing up, so that’s why I want to return home once I receive my degree. It is important for Native youth to see someone who looks like them doing a job they want to do.”
At UNCP, Lynch is a member of the Maynor Honors College, Beta Lambda Sigma Honor Society, and the Spirit Squad. She also serves as the Native American Student Organization historian and as the American Indian Learning Community Ambassador/peer mentor with the Center for Student Success.
Walton, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, is studying sociology with a double minor in studio art and substance abuse counseling. He plans to open an art studio and provide substance abuse counseling incorporating art therapy.
Walton, a married father of three from Lumberton, worked as a human resources manager with Walmart for 20 years before enrolling at UNCP in 2019.
“At 44, I never thought I would come back to school. I started at UNCP right after high school when I was 17, but I wasn’t sure which direction to go in, and, financially I felt I was wasting my money, so I decided to enter the workforce.”
Like Lynch, Walton is engaged on campus as treasurer with Phi Sigma Nu and a peer advisor with the Center for Student Success. He is active in his community, serving as co-director for both the Miss North Carolina Native American Youth Organization (NCNAYO) and Miss Indian North Carolina Scholarship pageants.
With his degree, Walton will seek to improve the lives of his fellow tribal members struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
“We have a lot of issues with substance abuse within our community. I plan to incorporate art to help kids who can’t vocally express their feelings.”
Lynch and Walton will get a chance to meet other scholars and program alumni during a virtual orientation in August. They will learn more about the Udall legacy of public service and connect with community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care and governance.