Jessica Clayburn, 2011 Winner of Two Highly Competitive Scholarships

Story by Matt Mais, Yurok Today Newsletter

While Yurok tribal member Jessica “Cooney” Clayburn is only 22, she has a crystal vision of what she wants in her future. The Humboldt State University Junior recently received two highly competitive scholarships, totaling $15,000. One of the scholarships was only open to students selected by and applied for by the university. Dr. Jacquelyn Bolman, the Director of HSU’s Indian Natural Resources, Sciences and Engineering Program submitted the successful Morris K. Udall scholarship application on Clayburn’s behalf. Only 80 students nationwide were awarded the $5,000 recompense.

“She is an inspiration to all who pursue higher education.....and aspire to the ideals of “being of service” to our Tribes and Tribal people,” Dr. Bolman said. “I know she holds within her the answers to the very complex challenges we are facing today as a people and a world.” The money will help Clayburn realize her goals.

“I was really shocked to receive the scholarships. I felt really happy that others believed enough in my dreams to fund them,” Clayburn said. “I used the money to pay off student loans and avoid taking out more in the upcoming school year.”

The second scholarship was bestowed to only one and four California Native American students who applied. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians Rodney T. Mathews, Jr. Memorial Scholarship also required someone nominate Clayburn. Yurok Tribal Member and President and CEO of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, Chris Peters, recommended Clayburn for the $10,000 scholarship, which she won.

“I believe that through Jessica’s skills, motivation and passion for serving indigenous peoples as well as the Yurok community, she has great potential in becoming a future tribal leader. This is why it is an honor and a privilege to support Jessica Clayburn’s application,” Peters wrote in the application.

The Klamath native went to Margaret Keating and was in one of the last junior high classes before it closed its doors to that age group. She also graduated from Del Norte High School. Clayburn attributes her success to having a stable, intoxicant-free home while she was a child and being exposed to her culture at a young age. Even though drugs and alcohol were not present inside her house, she witnessed living on the Reservation over and over again the turmoil substance abuse causes which is something she is intensely driven to turnaround once she finishes school.

“I want everyone in our tribal population to have the same opportunities I had and still have — a drug and alcohol-free safe home, access to my culture and language and knowing who I am and where I come from,” Clayburn said. “All of those things enabled me to have the passion to work hard and achieve my educational goals and dreams.”

Clayburn is working toward a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and minor in business administration. She will be applying to HSU’s post graduate Social Work Program in 2012. After Clayburn completes her social work training she wants to work for Yurok people in some capacity.

“I definitely see myself coming back to the Yurok community and working for my people,” Clayburn said. Clayburn is the program development coordinator for Red Deer Consulting, which specializes in leadership development, personal growth and identity based counseling and advising to Indigenous peoples, and is also headed by Chris Peters. It is there where she has formed her greatest life goal.

“Working with Red Deer Consulting I’ve been able to see how much culture plays a part in the health and well-being of native people,” Clayburn said. “My big dream is to make a culturally sensitive treatment option that is viable for our people and will offer the best chance of success.” Clayburn is also currently a JOM tutor serving the South District area. She enjoys working with Yurok youth providing academic assistance as well as cultural activities.

Clayburn, whose mother, Barbara McQuillen, a Yurok language teacher, is an active participant in Yurok ceremonies. She also is keen on working with people, which is probably the most valuable skill in her field. She also is very grateful for her parent’s for giving her foundation. “I am a people person. I love to work with people,” Clayburn stated. “I would also like to thank my mother and father for their strong support and always encouraging me to pursue my dreams” Clayburn concluded.