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Press Release

Release Date: August 10, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Regan Van Stavern lets nothing stand in the way of achieving her goals. Graduating from Santa Fe High School, Edmond, Oklahoma, Van Stavern earned the honor of being named valedictorian with distinction. Along with this honor, Van Stavern was one of only 300 students selected to receive the prestigious Gates Scholarship this year.

Daughter of Aaron and Laura, Van Stavern will attend the highly respected University of Southern California’s (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering to begin her higher education quest.

“I chose to go to USC because their engineering program is good,” Van Stavern said. “I feel like USC is the best fit for me. I enjoy the USC environment. It is going to be good.”

USC is located in Los Angeles and counts among its alumni Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon; western actor John Wayne; famed billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty; and Ree Drummond, a Pawhuska, Oklahoma, restaurant owner and Food Network chef.

Van Stavern shared the title of valedictorian with nearly 30 other students from a large graduating class. Each received A’s in all of their classes for all four years of high school. Only a handful of students were additionally honored as valedictorian with distinction.

As a valedictorian with distinction, Van Stavern took on the added challenge of enrolling in five or more Advanced Placement (AP) classes and earning A’s as her final grades. More difficult and challenging than standard classes, AP classes allow high school students the ability to earn college credits while in high school.

“A lot of people can become valedictorian,” Van Stavern said. “Advanced Placement classes are a lot more intense than standard ones. Students that take these classes and receive A’s graduate as valedictorian with distinction.”

Van Stavern was busy her junior and senior years applying for scholarships to assist with college expenses. Recognized as an elite scholar, Van Stavern received the coveted Gates Scholarship. Funded through grants provided by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Scholarship is limited to a select few.

Those selected for the scholarship are from minority, low-income households. They are selected from thousands in a national pool of applicants. The selection process and competition for the Gates Scholarship is extreme and arduous, but potentially life changing for those who receive it.

“The Gates Scholarship is open to lower income minority scholars,” Van Stavern said. “It gives these students opportunities they normally wouldn’t have. I was one of 300 selected out of about 40,000 applicants. It pays for almost everything. I feel super relieved that I am a Gates Scholar. I can focus on grades.”

According to the Gates Scholarship website, scholars receive full funding for the cost of attendance that is not already covered by other financial aid. Family contribution is expected, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Cost of attendance includes tuition, fees, room, board, books and transportation, and may include other personal costs. According to the USC website, tuition usually is $45,000 annually.

The hustle and bustle for many senior classmen who plan to attend college includes applying to universities across the nation. College applications are submitted, followed by anticipation of receiving acceptance or rejection letters. Van Stavern applied to nine universities. She only needed to apply to her first choice, as USC accepted her as a student. She will begin studying mechanical engineering this fall.

Van Stavern is also a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship from USC. Competition for this scholarship is also fierce. Only 200 USC students are selected to receive this scholarship annually. Applicants are not only judged academically, but on merit, perseverance and leadership qualities displayed within the community.

A QuestBridge Prep Scholar, Van Stavern progressed through the program throughout her senior year.

“QuestBridge is for lower income, high achieving students,” Van Stavern said. “It helps get you into the college scene early on. I credit QuestBridge with the schools I applied to. It allowed me to apply to them free, something I would not have been able to afford without help. It allowed schools to recognize that I was a high achieving student.”

Grades are not the only aspect of Van Stavern’s academic success. She was a member of both the multicultural and robotics clubs. She values the perspective of others. Van Stavern believes one of the many strengths of our nation is the acceptance of those of differing beliefs. Ideas presented to solve problems by individuals of differing cultures are priceless to Van Stavern. By participating in these clubs, she learned to be a team player.

“My Chickasaw heritage means a lot,” Van Stavern said. “My ancestors are important. I am proud to be able to say I am Chickasaw and be able to represent the Chickasaw Nation throughout my education and college experience. It is special to be a part of a community.”

The robotics club helped fuel her passion for engineering and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“I have been in the robotics club for three years,” Van Stavern said. “It’s really cool seeing our creations come alive. Each year was better than the last. This year I was more involved and hands-on. The club is STEM based with a class attached. STEM is important to me because it is the base of new, modern technologies. I want to be involved in making new things for society’s benefit.”

“It is important that women be involved in STEM careers,” Van Stavern said. “First Americans and women in general need to have a say in things that are going to affect them and how things are built. Diverse ideas create a better society for everyone.”

Van Stavern is involved in Youth Leadership Exchange (YLX), where she hones her leadership skills with lessons from prominent members of the Oklahoma City community. Modeled after Leadership Oklahoma City’s adult program, YLX participants come together once a month from September through May to learn ethics, communication skills and conflict resolution, among other topics.

Excited about the next chapter in her life, Van Stavern is preparing for her first time living away from friends, family and home.

“I think it is going to be a hard transition (moving to California),” Van Stavern said. “I have never been outside Oklahoma. Taking this big of a jump is nerve racking. However, knowing that my parents are supporting me and that I will see them during school breaks makes me feel better being far away.”