Meet Cara Thuringer and Emery Three Irons. A double major in environmental studies and photography, Thuringer is an avid runner who enjoys skiing on weekends at Moonlight Basin. Three Irons, a member of the Crow Nation, studies geospatial and environmental analysis and is a single father of an eight-year-old son.
Both students are winners of this year’s Udall Scholarship, a prestigious national award for sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care. Three Irons was honored in the tribal public policy division and Thuringer was honored in the environment division.
Established by the U.S. Congress in 1992, the Udall Foundation yearly provides 50 federally-funded scholarships, making MSU unique to have two Udall scholars this year. “Usually when MSU competes in these types of scholarships we’re going against big name schools … I don’t know if there is any other university that has two this year; it’s very unusual,” Thuringer explained. This year was also the first year an MSU student won in the tribal public policy division.
Thuringer applied for the scholarship last year as a sophomore and decided to re-apply this year after encouragement from Dr. Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of the Honors College. Calling her application “a long-shot,” winning a Udall Scholarship was a total surprise for Thuringer. “I still don’t think it’s entirely sunk in,” Thuringer added with a laugh.
Three Irons originally learned about the Udall scholarship as a student at Little Big Horn College in 2002, but he only considered seriously applying for it when approached by his department head last fall. Learning about his award was “sheer excitement and joy. I was just screaming around in the basement of Leon Johnson,” Three Irons recalled with a smile.
A self-described, “down-to-earth guy,” Three Irons said he mostly focuses on school, adding that he appreciates how his major enables others by providing information. “You can help policymakers make a decision, and I think that’s very important.”
Three Irons is also working on a project that uses GIS mapping technology to chart where Crow Indian Reservation members still speak their native language.
Also an active student, Thuringer is passionate about communicating climate change, adding that America needs to address its science education and plans to deal with the effects of climate change. “Climate change is called a wicked problem because [it] isn’t solved by a single, big action. It’s solved by everyday people deciding this is something that matters to them … and then taking that action,” Thuringer explained.
For Thuringer that everyday action comes in part as a research project documenting the effects of coal trains in Montana in the hopes of stopping coal export. “Coal is not good for our river; it’s got a laundry-list of toxins, said Thuringer, adding that, “For Montana, as the headwater state, we need to really protect our rivers.”
She also works 10 hours a week with Peaks to Prairie Pollution Prevention Information System where she develops a how-to guide for local governments on undertaking sustainability projects. Thuringer is also a member of the Network of Environmentally Conscious Organizations (NECO) and the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.
Although she’s never had a credit load under 18, Thuringer explained that her passion for her studies drives her forward. “It’s not hard for me to do my work because I want to learn the material.”
As a non-traditional student, Three Irons has a little different perspective on being a student. “I’m a single father, so my student life is just come to my class, study, study, go home, do the fatherly chores — cook, clean.”
Although its difficult being a full-time student and full-time dad, Three Irons said going back to school did not scare him. “I had to do it, kind of for my son, but not all of it, mostly for myself … there were challenges along the way for sure — those are lessons in life —it just made me confident and disciplined to study a lot.”
In the future, Three Irons eventually hopes to use his GIS degree to go back and help his tribe, but not right away. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to work right away, but I’m still kind of pondering the idea of graduate school,” Three Irons said.
Thuringer’s ideal future includes using photography to communicate how climate change affects people. “If you can give them something that’s very human to connect to, that brings the issue of climate a lot closer,” she explained.
Until then, look for Thuringer grabbing coffee at The Leaf and Bean or on the Bozeman trail system, and find Three Irons playing basketball with friends or dancing in the American Indian Council Pow Wow this weekend. (See brief on page 4.)