East Central University officials are expected to announce two scholarships and a fellowship at a ceremony at 2 p.m. Thursday honoring the work of late political science professor John Ulrich. A memorial bench will also be dedicated to his memory.
The scholarships and fellowship are the results of a cooperative effort by the ECU Foundation Inc. and the Dr. John J. Ulrich Foundation — a nonprofit organization established by Ulrich’s family after his death to carry on his work and provide political science students with transformative experiences.
Ulrich taught political science for 28 years at ECU. He died Sept. 7, 2015, surrounded by family at his home after an arduous battle with an invasive form of cancer. The family lost their oldest daughter, Jordan, after a prolonged battle with cystic fibrosis little more than two years before Ulrich’s death. The losses hit the Ulrich family hard, but family members said they were determined to honor the memory and the spirit of their sister and father.
That determination, organizers say, was the driving force behind the opportunities that will be made available to ECU students Thursday.
“We’re doing a $1,000 scholarship per year through the nursing program in honor of our daughter Jordan,” Lesa Ulrich said. “And the plan is to do a $1,000 per-year scholarship for a political science student through that department. John wanted to grow the political science program.”
Ulrich said the nursing scholarship was created as a direct result of her family’s experiences fighting cystic fibrosis and cancer. She said the family had to relocate to California to fight both illnesses, and the costs and complications of the move during such an emotional time took its toll on them. She said she wants to help other families navigate the logistical difficulties they will face should they find themselves in the same situation.
The fellowship will provide an opportunity for a junior or senior political science or legal studies student to spend a spring semester in the nation’s capital, working directly with legislators — an experience organizers describe as both transformative and invaluable.
In a proof-of-concept trial run, senior legal studies major Hannah Hale — the first Ulrich Fellow — spent 90 days in Washington, D.C., this spring, completing assignments specifically designed to maximize the educational impact of her proximity to the U.S. Capitol while working for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. The timing, Hale said, couldn’t have been better — attending the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Ardmore native.
“This is a unique experience,” Hale said. “It’s not like anything else East Central can offer you. It’s going to open doors for people, and it’s going to be really special. I feel very blessed to be a part of it.”
ECU Political Science Chair Christine Pappas described Ulrich as a “dear colleague” who wanted his students to experience “world-class opportunities” — something the fellowship has been expressly designed to provide.
Pappas said the trial run was a success.
“I worked with John for almost 15 years,” Pappas said. “This is a wonderful time to memorialize the excellence he brought to ECU. It’ll be a short program, but it’ll also be a very powerful program remembering him and his legacy at ECU.”
For the Ulrich family, the ceremony marks the fulfillment of their father’s vision. It’s a matter of respect for his wishes and a way to ensure his influence at ECU lives on in perpetuity.
“It would mean a lot to our kids to have people come and remember their dad,” Ulrich said, holding back tears. “John had privileges not everyone has, and he wanted to (create) an opportunity for people who deserve a break.
“You never know, they could be a superstar.”