Two students are sharing East Central University’s prestigious George Nigh Award this year as ECU’s top graduating seniors.
Tyffany Osborn of Muldrow and Joe Trail of Ada received the awards Wednesday [APRIL 25] at a luncheon honoring them and finalists Caitlyn Clifton of McAlester and Rosa Denton of Porum for their outstanding academic achievements.
Former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh, who was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives when he was a senior at ECU, answered questions from the finalists before the winners were announced.
Osborn and Trail each received $750 for the award, which is based on academic achievement, character and potential contribution to public service. The late Julian Rothbaum, a Tulsa oilman, banker and one-time state regent for higher education, established an endowment through the ECU Foundation Inc., to fund the Nigh Award in honor of the former governor.
Nigh, also a former president of the University of Central Oklahoma, served four terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, four terms as lieutenant governor and two terms as governor.
Tyffany Osborn will graduate in May with a bachelor of social work degree and a minor in counseling. She plans to work directly with children and families in social work practice.
After witnessing or experiencing the effects of such things as domestic violence, drug abuse and child neglect, Osborn wrote in an application letter, she can appreciate the struggles, fears and deep need of families experiencing these issues.
“Like me, many social workers enter the profession because, in some way, they have been affected by the negative aspects of society,” she said. “Social work is a way for them to change those things, as I want to do.”
Osborn is completing an internship at the Chickasaw Nation Office of Violence Prevention. After graduating, she plans to work for a social service agency and within a few years earn a master of science in social work degree and become a licensed clinical social worker. Eventually she wants to receive a doctoral degree to teach at the university level.
She has been a student tutor in the ECU Writing Center since January 2009. She has made presentations twice at Oklahoma Research Day and at the ECU Honors Showcase. Osborn is a member of Alpha Chi national honor society, Alpha Delta Mu national social work honor society and the Honors Student Association.
She has been a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, the Infant Crisis Center in Oklahoma City and Ada’s Family Crisis Center. She is an active member of the Muldrow Eastside Free Will Baptist Church and Ada’s First Baptist Church.
Joe Trail served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2004 to 2010 and was a KC-130 crew chief instructor at Cherry Point, N.C., before coming to ECU. He performed aviation maintenance and instructed trainees on aircraft systems and job duties, managed more than 25 people and improved training and readiness for the unit by 25 percent. He also contributed to the achievement of aviation safety awards and 2005/2006 Squadron of the Year awards.
He is majoring in political science with a minor in legal studies. He plans to earn a law degree and open a private practice law firm as well as other businesses. He also hopes to serve in the state legislature
“My ultimate life goal is to represent my state at the federal level. If I could become elected as a United States Senator or Representative, then all of my life goals will have been achieved,” Trail wrote in his application letter.
He has been an intern for state Sen. Susan Paddack and Congressman Dan Boren. He is president of ECU’s chapter of Alpha Chi national honor society and the ECU Young Democrats, vice president of Pi Sigma Alpha national political science honor society, sergeant at arms of the Legal Professions Association and delegation chair for the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature.
Trail was one of 10 students nationwide selected to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduate Students, an eight-week course in conflict management and peace hosted in 2011 by the University of North Texas. He was the first social sciences major at ECU to receive a NASA Research Fellowship Award.
He also was a presentation award winner at the Alpha Chi Super Regional Conference in March and has made several presentations at conferences across the country. He also has participated in a number of community service projects.
Finalist Caitlin Clifton will receive a degree in molecular biology in May. She plans to earn a master’s degree in psychology and work with children and teens. She also has an associate’s degree from Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton She has been vice president of the Chemistry Club since 2010 and is a former vice president of the Dead Rat Society and the Young Democrats.
Finalist Rosa Denton received a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from ECU in December and is working toward a master’s degree in library media. She wants to earn a doctoral degree and become a university professor. She has made presentations this year at the Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston as a NASA Fellow and the Alpha Chi Regional Conference in Baltimore.
Nigh, responding to questions from the finalists, said the hardest decision he ever made was raising taxes during his second term as governor following the oil bust in 1982. He had created the Rainy Day Fund during his first term when the oil boom brought in unprecedented revenues, but even that could not cover later revenue failures.
Nigh said being governor topped any other job he has had because he had followed his high school dream of becoming the governor when he grew up. He knew when to make the next move up the ladder from legislator to lieutenant governor and to governor, then was offered a job teaching at the University of Central Oklahoma. When the UCO president retired five years later, he was selected as the next president.
He joked that the book that made the biggest impact on him as a teenager was a Superman comic book, but added that “The Robe,” which he read in high school, led to the first public speaking he ever did, for six book reviews across southeastern Oklahoma.
Nigh also pointed out how people from small Oklahoma towns have changed the world, from Carl Albert, who attended only a two-room school as a youngster and become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to the six Miss America winners from Oklahoma, songwriter Mae Boren Axton of Ada who made Elvis Presley a star with “Heartbreak Hotel,” Checotah superstar Carrie Underwood and Yukon’s Garth Brooks, whose music has outsold Elvis Presley’s.