Nolan Altvater

Demographics – 

Name: Nolan Altvater

Major(s): Secondary Education, Concentration in English

Year in school: Undergraduate – 4th Year

Scholarship received: Honorable Mention – Udall Scholarship

Year received: 2020


General Questions:



How did you first hear about this scholarship?



A couple of outlets. The first time that I heard about it was through emails from the Native American Studies Department at UMaine, as well as from my mentor, Professor Darren Ranco. Then I heard from the Office of Major Scholarships, and then an email from another mentor, Professor Bridie McGreavy, who reached out to me. 



Do you remember where you were when you found out you had received the scholarship? If so, where? Tell us the story! 



The day that I found out had been such a long day, because I was so nervous. I knew they were going to let us know that day if we had gotten it or not. I took a really long walk to get my mind off the scholarship. When they announced it, I was in my apartment on my couch, staring at my computer and waiting for the email. Once I saw the email, I read through it and I didn’t fully understand whether I had received it or not. I figured out that it was an honorable mention, and I was a bit bummed, but they had also informed my mentors and the Office of Major Scholarships, so I was receiving congratulatory emails from them. I also received a few emails from some community members, and was proud of the work that I had done and I was feeling accomplished. 



What was your favorite aspect of the scholarship experience? (Ex. travel, experiences, learning a new language, research opportunities, etc.) 



For me, it’s definitely the community aspect of this scholarship that has been the most rewarding. There’s a community aspect to the application, where I was working with my mentor, Professor Darren Ranco, and my mentor, Professor Bridie McGreavy, the Office of Major Scholarships, etc. Having that dialogue and working with others made me feel more motivated, and also provided me with feedback. There’s also the reward of community that comes with receiving the Honorable Mention. You get put on the Udall Alumni List, which is an email list that sends out information and updates about Native American news, as well as job opportunities, and nationwide communication. 



What did you learn during the application process? 



The process is where I learned the most. As I said before, the process was pre-COVID, but all of the essays that I had to write felt a bit like a conversation with myself. Through that dialogue, I was able to pull out my own interests and also the needs of my community. Having conversations with my mentors and members of my communities was also incredibly powerful. The research aspect of this brought me back to some readings about LD-291 that I had done before, but also brought me to new information about indigenous activist work. One of the essays is based on the work and essays of the Udall brothers, and reading through that gave me a lot to consider. 



Tell us a bit about your research experience: 



The project was pre-COVID, and the original intent was to confront some of the issues surrounding LD 291, which is a bill that requires that Native American history and culture be taught in all Maine elementary and secondary schools. We wanted to create an opportunity to assist teachers and educators with teaching Wabanaki curriculum. There’s a lot of positive feedback about teachers wanting to be able to do so, but there’s a concern from them about misrepresenting Wabanaki culture, and therefore being hesitant to teach the subject. 


My original intent was to do a writing camp for both teachers in practice and teachers already in the field, as well as non-native and native students. We would come together in the summer and travel to sites that are important to Wabanaki culture, and do a story exchange there between individuals. We would then have those individuals that participated work with a few writing prompts about the experience. Obviously COVID has changed that plan. Honestly, COVID brought more positive things to this project than it did negative things, because it forced me to switch to a more short-term, achievable goal. That’s the work that I’m doing now with the Mcgillicuddy Humanities Center (MHC). 


The MHC Fellowship allowed me to evolve my project into a few different components. I’m now working with a few high schools, specifically Casco Bay High School, where I’m working with a mentor teacher to develop Wabanaki curriculum to facilitate students in conversation. We are also working on a virtual learning experience with the Penobscot Nation Water Quality Facility, so that the students can see how work is done there. This learning experience also allows students to gain an understanding of the intimate connection between the Penobscot Nation and the river, as well as informing students of the negative effects of pollution and poor water quality on not only the Wabanaki people, but on the state as a whole. 


Another aspect of my work focuses on paradigm shift here at the University of Maine. There are very clear action steps that both the University and the State of Maine need to take for better implementation of the law. One of these steps is developing a required course for education majors that requires them to be able to teach Wabanaki Studies before they are able to become a certified teacher. We are pushing for that development here at UMaine. 


The other aspect of this is using indigenous research methodology to explore Wabanaki writing theory.  I’m reading stories about my ancestors and stories about Wabanaki peoples and exploring many different aspects for this research. Obviously we weren’t a community that had written languages, we had primarily oral language. The other aspect of this is using indigenous research methodology to explore Wabanaki writing theory. My project explores the protocols and synergy of Wabanaki writing/image making before colonialism, it wasn’t something we did as a result of European contact. We had our own systems of “writing” that we used for survival and communication with one another, but then this changed upon colonialism. We had to switch to a written system due to the presence of a dominant culture and for the sake of cultural preservation, but we use these tools for our own creative and specific purposes; such as policy writing. 


The history of research and indigenous peoples is not incredibly positive, and it was very difficult for me to get past that insecurity of the fact that I’m basically doing research on my community. That’s where the indigenous research methodologies come into play – you’re not following a Western mindset surrounding research. Your research isn’t simply for self-gain, it’s for indigenous communities and it revolves around the relationships and reciprocity within these communities.  



How did you incorporate your personal skills/outside interests/other elements that were not the application’s focus into your application?



I struggled with this at first, because I don’t like writing about myself or marketing myself. It actually turned out to be pretty easy though, because it helps when your interests or skills converge with your research interests and passions. My first project with the Wabanaki Youth and Science Program allowed me to use my interest in photography, where I photographed and then presented a project. I was able to use this interest and this experience in my application, because it was within the same field. 



Do you think that receiving this scholarship affects or will affect your future academic and/or career goals?



Having this experience with any sort of process, the process of applying for any scholarship, that will change your path. Even if you don’t receive the scholarship, there’s still going to be some sort of reward. Either you don’t receive it and you get to review your weak spots, or you do receive it and you make some great connections or have some amazing opportunities. Beyond resume-building, you’re going to gain something and change the path of your professional career. 



What advice do you have for others who may be interested in applying for this scholarship? 



First and foremost, start as early as you can. The Udall Scholarship is a very rigorous and time-consuming process. Use the Office of Major Scholarships as a resource, both for what you want to do and just to talk about your passions. Sometimes just talking about it can help you discover things that you didn’t even know were there. Rely on mentors for feedback and conversations as well. Keep your audience in mind when writing your essays – the Udall Foundation is looking for the significance of the scholarship to you. That’s where the research about the Udall brothers comes in, so be sure to focus a lot on that. Just spend a lot of time refining and working on your application.