Undergraduate Academic Affairs

May 9, 2023

UW sophomore Isabell Ellison awarded Udall Scholarship for impact on American Indian and environmental issues

Danielle Marie Holland

Photo of Isabell Ellison

Isabell Ellison was selected for the Udall Scholarship.

University of Washington sophomore Isabell Ellison was recently named a Udall Scholar! Ellison is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a focus on improving communities through infrastructure.

Ellison is one of 55 highly-qualified students from 46 colleges and universities who have been selected as 2023 Udall Scholars. The Udall Foundation scholarship supports students committed to leadership, public service and issues related to American Indian nations or to the environment. More than 384 candidates nominated by 172 colleges and universities applied for this selective scholarship, with award recipients receiving up to $7,000 each. The Udall Scholarship honors the legacies of Morris Udall and Stewart Udall, whose careers held a significant impact on American Indian self-governance and stewardship of lands and resources.

Ellison’s love of engineering began in middle school, where she was first introduced to the studies as part of an Alaska Native science program in Anchorage. Ellison is Sugpiaq and a tribal citizen of the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, Alaska. Her passion for engineering continued through high school studies, where she received mentorship from a local structural engineering firm.

As a UW undergraduate, Ellison serves as an officer of Canoe Family at UW, bringing Pacific Northwestern Indigenous canoe culture to Indigenous students at the University.

“The First Nations and Canoe Family community allowed me to make sure my voice is heard,” Ellison said. “Having a program specifically designed for first-year Native undergraduates enabled me to find my footing at UW. I knew I had a community where I belonged.”

Ellison has participated in the First Nations Launch, NASA’s competition for American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) students to demonstrate engineering and design in high-powered rocketry. Ellison has a current internship with Koniag, Inc., her regional Alaska Native corporation, and completed a previous internship with Afognak Native corporation, her village Alaska Native corporation.

As a dedicated researcher and scholar, Ellison is interested in structural engineering and hydropower as methods of improving rural Native community infrastructures. After graduation she plans on working to bring the sustainable, renewable and cost-effective energy source of hydropower to as many villages in Alaska as possible.

Ellison sees the Udall scholarship as an incredible opportunity to support her focus on achieving her degree. “It is also an opportunity for representation of Sugpiaq people and will allow me to connect with other Indigenous students,” shared Ellison. She is excited to meet the other Udall Scholars in Tucson this August at the annual Udall Scholar orientation. Students will meet one another and program alumni at the orientation and learn more about the Udall legacy for public service. When not studying or sending test rockets into the sky, Ellison can be found exploring the Pacific Northwest with her family and friends.

About the Udall Scholarship

The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship is open to college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or to the environment. Udall Scholars come from all majors and fields of study. Recent Udall Scholars have majored in environmental sciences and policy studies, agriculture, political science, natural resource management and American Indian studies, to name just a few areas.

About the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards

The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship process is supported by the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards (OMSFA), a UAA program. OMSFA works with faculty, staff and students to identify and support promising students in developing the skills and personal insights necessary to become strong candidates for this and other prestigious awards.

More about Isabell, a Q&A

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What brought you to study civil engineering?

It was basically a long process throughout my life. I was able to do the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program Middle School Academy (ANSEP), a two-week engineering program for middle schoolers in Anchorage. That was a really good introduction into different types of engineering. During high school, I continued in engineering classes, and I had an engineering mentorship with a local structural engineering firm. That helped me to really confirm that this is what I wanted to do.

How do you see your studies and research play out in the greater community?

I go back each summer to Anchorage where I have had different internships, so most of what I see is in Alaska. With my studies I’m interested in structural engineering and hydropower, and that’s something that I could see spreading throughout Alaska. There’s one community already, Kodiak, where 80% of their power is hydropower. That’s something that I’m very interested in studying and researching and seeing if I can bring that to other villages in Alaska.

Can you tell us more about hydropower?

Hydropower is a renewable energy source. So how it works in Kodiak, specifically — Kodiak is an archipelago of different islands —there’s a lot of available water, where hydropower is able to work and the city runs it. Which means that it is less expensive for the residents. That’s something that is very big, especially in these rural villages where you would have to pay for petroleum, a very expensive heating energy. So having these types of renewable energy sources is sustainable for the environment, but also for the community where it’s more cost-effective.