Cassandra Baker
Cassandra Baker, a junior in mathematics from Lame Deer, won a Udall Scholarship in the tribal public policy category. Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez / MSU
Two Montana State students named Udall Scholars
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
MSU News Service

Two Montana State University students have won the prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. Cassandra Baker, a junior from Lame Deer majoring in math education, won the fellowship in the tribal public policy category. Atticus Cummings, a junior from Bozeman majoring in directed interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in architecture, chemical engineering and sociology, was named a scholar in the environmental category.

Baker and Cummings were among 55 students from colleges and universities across the country to have been selected as 2022 Udall Scholars, said Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of MSU’s Honors College.

“We are so very proud of Cassandra and Atticus, who have been named 2022 Udall Scholars. Cassandra, in recognition of her significant contributions to tribal communities in Montana, and Atticus, for his efforts on our campus to protect our natural environment ” Lee said. “As servant leaders, they will join a national network for Udall Scholars, who have truly made a difference in their communities.”

The Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency that Congress established in 1992 to provide federally funded scholarships for college students intending to pursue careers related to the environment, as well as to American Indian students pursuing tribal public policy or Native health care careers. Udall Scholars receive $7,000 to use toward academic expenses. The scholarships honor the legacy of Morris Udall and Stewart Udall.

Cassandra Baker is a member the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who is using mathematical modeling techniques to gauge sustainability of the Northern Cheyenne language. She is also using modeling techniques to activate interest in math, STEM fields and cultural heritage in high school students in the region.

“We are experiencing a loss of language,” Baker said. She explained that she is developing tasks that will model the loss of the language and determine numbers of speakers needed to ensure survival.

A non-traditional and first-generation college student, Baker graduated from St. Labre Indian School in Ashland. She briefly attended a college in Maryland but said she didn’t fit in there and returned to Montana. She said when she was invited to tour the Montana State campus, she was happy to see an entire room dedicated to American Indian students — and now an entire building with the opening of American Indian Hall — as well as a supportive community.

Baker said that at first mathematics was her worst subject, but one of her high school teachers used the technique of allowing students to correct work to increase chances of a better grade. That helped her understand mathematic concepts, and she came to develop a love for the subject.

Baker said that, once on campus, she had about 10 different jobs to support herself, and because she couldn’t afford textbooks, she checked them out from the library. In the case of her statistics textbook, she could only check it out for a few hours at a time.

“I had so many fines,” she recalled. However, she soon learned that there were people at MSU to support her. “If you ask, there are people who will help.”

Lisa Perry, director of American Indian/Alaskan Native Student Success in the Department of Native American Studies, in the College of Letters and Sciences, said that Baker is a promising student in the classroom and a role model to her colleagues.

“I am excited for Cassandra to have this opportunity as a Udall Scholar and to know all her hard work is being recognized,” Perry said. “Cassandra is a role model to her peers and younger Indigenous students. I am glad I get the opportunity to support Cassandra in her academic and life journey, and I know she will use this opportunity to give back to Indigenous communities in a good way.”

Baker said one of the turning points in her career at MSU was when Beth Burroughs, head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences in the College of Letters and Science, hired Baker as the department’s student office assistant, where she has worked on the department’s website. She has also collaborated with professor Mary Alice Carlson in math education on math modeling. Through her work with the department she has thrived, she said.

This summer Baker will work with Carlson on the Montana Models camp for middle and high school students. She said students from her Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Confederated Salish-Kootenai reservations as well as students from non-reservation communities will use mathematical modeling techniques to understand and quantify the number of Native speakers needed to keep traditional tribal languages alive. They will also develop a plan to sustain Native languages.

She said winning the Udall will help her expand that work by allowing her to network with other educational professionals working in her field and to learn other successful techniques in retaining language.

Carlson said that Baker is a thoughtful student who is not satisfied with “surface level” solutions to problems.

“She makes every team she is on better,” Carlson said. “Cassie is already pushing us into new territory as we develop culturally responsive mathematics tasks for the Montana Models camp. I feel really fortunate to get to work with her.”

In addition to winning the Udall scholarship, Baker recently received a Cameron Presidential Scholarship and will be a member of the Honors College. She is a recent winner of the Department of Native American Studies and the American Indian/Alaska Native Student Success Program’s Dan Voyich Community Involvement Award. She is a member of Pi Mu Epsilon mathematics honorary society and a recipient of the Milton F. Chauner Mathematics Scholarship. Baker serves as a tutor for American Indian/Alaska Native Student Success program. She said after graduation she hopes to return to her reservation to teach math, eventually becoming a professor in math education.

“Reflecting back on my journey has been surreal,” Baker said. “I can’t believe I got to this point when so many things could have stopped me. I really just want other Native students to realize we can do anything and carry our experiences and our identity with us when we do.”

Atticus Cummings
Montana State University student Atticus Cummings is pictured on campus Monday, February 14, 2022 in Bozeman. Cummings has been named a finalist for the Truman Scholarship. Photo by Kelly Gorham / MSU

Atticus Cummings was homeschooled until he enrolled at MSU, eventually deciding on a directed interdisciplinary studies degree in the Honors College to understand why some promising technologies fail to take hold and to explore patterns found in nature to solve social and environmental problems, a discipline called biomimicry.

Cummings’ degree encompasses work in the College of Arts and Architecture, the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering and the College of Letters and Science. His current research is the engineering behind a building material that can sequester plastic waste and carbon. His directed interdisciplinary studies curriculum combines areas that he believes are central to a sustainable future: engineering, design and social science. Together, he believes these disciplines can help inspire people to adopt sustainable technologies and take on climate change, as well as the communication needed so that climate change is accepted. He said the Udall Scholarship will help him meet other people working at the intersection of human and natural systems.

“Atticus is truly a Renaissance man,” said Logan Schultz, assistant dean of the Honors College. “He embodies the interdisciplinary creativity and purpose-driven education we value in the Directed Interdisciplinary Studies program. His research, service and community involvement have inspired many, and he is always willing to help other students. Everything he does is deeply rooted in the desire to improve our world, and it gives me great hope to see him flourishing.”

Cummings is a recipient of a Cameron Presidential Scholarship and a Vice President for Research and Economic Development research grant for his self-directed research on enzyme-induced biomineralization on waste plastic in the Wilking and Heveran labs. As a student in the honors section of the design fundamentals course taught by Brian W. Brush, architecture instructor and director of the MSU Community Design Center, Cummings helped design an equitable, all-abilities obstacle course for the Bozeman HRDC.

He was a member of the Honors Presents lecture series leadership team, the Campus Climate Coalition, the Honors College internal advisory committee and the School of Architecture Student Advisory Council. He served as an at-large student senator and competes in and teaches fencing.

“Atticus has always pushed towards a synergy of creative methods that are usually in disciplinary silos,” Brush said. “He has a remarkable ability to connect knowledge across great distance and through his talent for design will undoubtedly accomplish great things that address our world’s most pressing issues.”

This fall, Cummings will pursue an internship in ecology and architecture biomimicry design in Singapore. Following graduation from MSU, he plans to take a year off school to pursue field work in biomimicry. Eventually, he plans to earn a master’s degree in architecture to create bio-inspired designs that will help climate refugees. He said his custom curriculum at MSU has given him the tools and resources to prepare him to move into this new area of science and design.

“I’m really interested in using inspiration from the non-human world to create self-sustaining systems for humans,” Cummings said.


MSU News Service shares stories about Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, and the accomplishments of its students, faculty, alumni and staff. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.
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