Senior graduate Carson Sandvik was named the 2022 George Nigh Prize winner at East Central University’s launch ceremonies on Saturday, May 7.
The George Nigh Award is given annually to the top ECU graduate and is named in honor of the former Governor of Oklahoma and ECU alumnus. In addition to governor, Nigh served multiple terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and as lieutenant governor. He also served as president of the University of Central Oklahoma.
The late Julian Rothbaum, a Tulsa oilman, banker, and state regent for higher education, established an endowment through the ECU Foundation, Inc., to fund the Nigh Award. Each year, ECU’s top seniors are invited to apply and go through a rigorous application and interview process.
“Thank you for this exceptional opportunity to apply for such a prestigious award,” said Sandvik. “I am extremely honored to have been selected.”
Sandvik, from Bethany, was one of six finalists for the award. The other five finalists were Katelen Cowger from Ada, Amanda Daniel from Norman, Abigail Fowler from Byng, Kiley Moore from McAlester and Blake Thomas from Yukon.
Sandvik majored in Biology with a minor in Kinesiology with a 4.0 GPA. He is a member of the Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society, a McNair Scholar, and a member of the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society. While at ECU, Sandvik competed with the cross country and track and field teams as a captain, served as chair of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteered at Ada First Baptist Church and was a STEM tutor. He has earned three Great American Conference Elite Scholar-Athlete honors, the highest GPA of those competing in cross-country and track and field tournaments, and three Division Athletic Directors’ Association honors. II and six GAC Academic Team Honors.
Sandvik led the Tigers in cross country and track and field, helping the cross country team win the GAC Championship in 2018 and 2020. In his four-year career, he twice won second-place honors. All-GAC team and first-team All-GAC awards his past two seasons. He also added an All-GAC Second Team award in the 5,000 meters and ended his career with All-GAC First Team honors in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in 2022.
Sandvik said he plans to continue his studies at the University of Oklahoma’s physical therapy department starting June 6. Upon completion, he plans to begin an orthopedic rehabilitation physiotherapy program.
“My goal is to help bring joy back to people’s lives by assessing, managing and correcting problems, injuries and illnesses brought on by sports, careers or simply aging,” Sandvik said. “I have always loved helping people and believe this is the best opportunity to use my knowledge and passions to provide exceptional care. I want to be the person who leads the suffering towards a better life in all possible areas.
But he doesn’t want to stop there.
“One of the goals would be to invent a new protocol that would provide faster and more efficient rehabilitation in post-operative procedures,” he said.
Sandvik ultimately wants to use his experience in the healthcare field to volunteer as an overseas missionary in poor countries.
“It would be the ultimate way to bless those who cannot afford or access health care while being a light in the dark world,” Sandvik said.
The other five Nigh finalists also built extraordinary resumes and experiences. Here are only brief summaries of their accomplishments.
Katelen Cowger maintained a 4.0 GPA while earning a bachelor’s degree in English and Native American Studies. His honors and awards include Honors Program Fellowship, Recipient of Thomas-King Honors Fellowship, Wanita Danley English Honors Fellowship, Member of Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, Fellowship cross-country and athletics. She has earned three Division II Athletic Directors Association Academic Achievement Awards, six GAC Academic Team Awards and four GAC Elite Athlete Awards.
She was a member of the cross country and track and field teams for four seasons, helping the cross country team finish second in the GAC in 2017. She finished her career with a sixth place finish at the 2022 GAC Championships, good for All-GAC Second Team honors in the 1,500 meters.
Cowger has also volunteered with the Ada community, including Abba’s Tables and Pontotoc Animal Welfare Shelter.
Future plans led her to take the master’s program in rhetoric and writing from the English department at the University of Oklahoma. She received a Rada scholarship and an appointment as a graduate teaching assistant. She will work with UO faculty to further decolonize the image of Indigenous women in popular culture. Beyond her master’s degree, Cowger plans to pursue a doctorate in rhetorical and writing studies with a specialty in Native American literature.
Amanda Daniel earned her bachelor’s degree in English Education, earning department honors while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She was inducted into Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society in Fall 2019, Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society in Spring 2019, Alpha Psi Omega National Theater Honor Society in Spring 2018. She was also inducted the Ozella Elizabeth Waner English Scholarship and a university degree. Scholarship in 2017.
While at ECU, Daniel was able to experience his creative talents with ECU Theater and during an internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
“My ultimate goal is to work in education advocacy,” she said. His passion for creating accessible classrooms is reflected in his honors presentations, “Importance of Arts in Public Education” and “Embracing Silenced Identities in the Classroom”, and in his English Department Capstone presentation, “Multimodal Systems in Education: Creating Accessible Classrooms”.
Abigail Fowler earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Spanish, maintaining her 4.0 GPA throughout her college career. She has been part of the ECU Honors program, the Spanish Club, the National Society of Leadership & Success, the Pre-Physicians Club, and the McNair Scholars program. Fowler is also a member of the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society and the Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society. Her community involvement includes volunteering at The Refuge, Homer Elementary as a tutor, as well as donations to the Oklahoma Blood Institute and the Compassion Outreach Center.
His undergraduate research focused on bee pollen and its biotic and abiotic effects. Fowler’s goal is to own a pediatric clinic in Oklahoma to care for those in need. Her plans will take her to medical school and then complete her residency. Fowler also wants to share his knowledge and training with those in developing countries.
Kiley Moore graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Services Counseling in December 2021 and is currently working on her Masters in Clinical Mental Health and Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling with hopes of becoming a Registered Professional Counselor and Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her educational career and has completed over 100 hours of community service. Moore was a member of the ECU Honors Program and the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society.
Upon completion of her master’s degree, Moore will work at Massey Counseling in McAlester. She plans to further her education and pursue a doctorate at Oklahoma State University.
Blake Thomas rounds out George Nigh finalists with a 4.0 GPA in his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology – Management Information Systems. He also obtained certificates in management information systems and project management. At ECU, Thomas participated in the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society, graduated with honors, was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success and the National Technical Honor Society. He was president of the ECU student body and the ECU Student Government Association, he was in the ECU Anime club, a leader of the Stonecipher School of Business Scholar and a member of the Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society.
He is currently employed at Paycom in Oklahoma City and is studying and earning certifications to further his skills.