Stephanie Jenkins is one of 62 part-time students who were awarded Sealaska scholarships in 2019. Last year was the first year the scholarship program included part-time students.
When Stephanie Jenkins first applied for a Sealaska scholarship in 1998, she had no idea she was opening a door to her Tlingit culture and identity. This identity ultimately allowed her to see herself as a strong Native woman.
Fast-forward to today — this strong Native woman just graduated from Georgetown University’s highly competitive Master of Science in Nursing–Family Nurse Practitioner Program. After years of studying, working as a registered nurse and raising a family, she is now on her way to starting her career as a family nurse practitioner.
Stephanie was not always so connected to Sealaska or her Tlingit background. She grew up in East Peoria, Illinois, without any Native friends.
“Today I am so proud of my culture, but as a child, I didn’t know anyone else with a Native American background. My mom hardly mentioned anything about our family being Tlingit when I was younger,” Stephanie explained.
Stephanie is no stranger to education. Along her academic journey, she followed her husband who served in the U.S. Army over a 20-year span. She initially started out completing pre-med courses in order to realize her dream of becoming a physician, but ultimately changed her degree to accommodate their military lifestyle. She then completed her degree as a licensed practical nurse, an associate degree in nursing (registered nurse), and then a bachelor’s degree in nursing. At the end of 2019, she completed her master’s degree at Georgetown University.
All along her journey, Stephanie received scholarships, including ones from Sealaska. Going back for her master’s degree meant balancing her studies with raising her two children and working as a nurse. So, she decided to finish up part-time. But since scholarships were originally only for full-time students, Stephanie wondered if she could count on Sealaska. Then last year in 2019, Sealaska expanded the program to include part-time students.
“I thought to myself, wow, I was so grateful to see the change! Why put any limits on it? I’ve been working as a nurse for the last 15 years, and now I’m taking care of my family too. Going back to graduate school with a family or financial concerns is very hard to do as a full-time student. There should be more scholarship opportunities for Natives who cannot go to school full-time. I feel very strongly that we need more education funds and leadership opportunities for Native people,” said Stephanie.
Back when her Tlingit mother first mentioned the Sealaska scholarship program, Stephanie was surprised to learn about Alaska Native corporations. She got curious, submitted her first application and was awarded a scholarship for pre-med classes.
Even though Stephanie has never lived in Alaska, she lived with her husband in the Pacific Northwest for 10 years, long before her time at Georgetown University. Because of the scholarship program and her Alaska Native roots, she sought out Tlingit and Haida people and met a whole community of creative weavers, carvers and artists in Seattle. Stephanie is still grateful she had the chance to experience her culture.
“I couldn’t believe the depth of the culture and how intertwined the community is. These are people like me, and they are so artistic and creative. It’s possible I might have felt a slight stigma as a child, but now I am proud of who I am. I am so incredibly proud of my culture.”
For Stephanie, the scholarship program also gave her an important perspective on identity and leadership. She learned that her Aunt Kathy Polk was a long-time director for Goldbelt, Inc., the Alaska Native urban corporation for Juneau.
“I realized a long time ago that when I saw Sealaska, I saw successful Native leaders. I was not raised near my culture or around Natives. But for the first time, I saw Native people as leaders and visionaries, and that meant a lot to me and still does. I encourage all Native people to keep striving to meet their goals of education and leadership, and that not every journey will ever be the same,” said Stephanie.
Stephanie is Tlingit/Eagle from the House of Shark. Her Tlingit name is G’aanduxt’ooh. She is the daughter of Linda and Randy Buhs, sister of Randy Buhs Jr., niece of Kathy Polk, Evelyn Howard Camp and Darryl Furey. Her family is originally from Hoonah.
Upcoming 2020 Deadlines
February 1: Early Bird deadline ($50 incentive)
March 1: Final deadline to submit all scholarship application materials
More information is available at the shareholder portal at MySealaska.com and Sealaska Heritage Institute also has information on our scholarships and others, including the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program.
Did you know?
- Since last year, part-time students are now eligible for scholarships.
- Scholarships are awarded to students enrolled at vocational and technical schools, graduate schools, four-year colleges and other types of post-secondary programs.
- Scholarships are funded by Sealaska and administered by Sealaska Heritage Institute.
- Descendants are eligible to apply – not just shareholders.
Calling all former Sealaska scholarship recipients!
Are you a former scholarship recipient? Or do you know someone who is? We want to hear from you! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how education has shaped your journey. Be sure to include a photo!