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East Central University graduating senior Bethany Bengs was named the winner of the 2023 George Nigh Award.

The George Nigh Award goes to the top graduating senior from ECU annually and is named in honor of the former governor of Oklahoma and ECU alumnus. In addition to governor, Nigh served multiple terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and as lieutenant governor. He also served as president of the University of Central Oklahoma.

The late Julian Rothbaum, a Tulsa oilman, banker, and state regent for higher education, established an endowment through the ECU Foundation, Inc., to fund the Nigh Award. Each year top ECU seniors are invited to apply and undergo a rigorous application and interview process.

“Upon first hearing about this award my freshman year, I have strived to uphold the qualifications necessary to be an eligible candidate,” Bengs said. “I am grateful and honored to have been nominated for this prestigious award.”

Bengs is from Quinton, Oklahoma, and has maintained a 4.0 GPA while earning dual bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Biology with a health science concentration. Bengs has joined multiple honor societies during her time at ECU including the Alpha Chi National Honor Society, Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society, Pi Mu Epsilon, and the National Society of Leadership and Success. Bengs has held leadership positions and also won many awards and scholarships during her time at ECU, along with community service in her hometown and Ada.

She first learned of biostatistics when she was only a sophomore in high school. She enjoyed mathematics and was gaining interest in science.

“Biostatistics combined my interest in math with my desire to impact human health,” Bengs said. At ECU, she took courses in biostatistics and was introduced to the programming language R and public health research. She took lessons from that course and applied it to her Honors thesis.

The thesis, “An Analysis of COVID-19 Infection Rates Among Native American Tribal Nations in Oklahoma,” demonstrated her dedication to research as the thesis was published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science.”

She also presented her research at several conferences and represented ECU at Research Day at the Capitol in March.

“While I still have much to learn in biostatistics, my long-term goal is to obtain a position at a medical or public health research institution and contribute to the research of the latest medical and public health topics,” Bengs said. “I also would eventually like to obtain a professorship at a research university and train the next generation of biostatisticians and researchers.”

Bengs plans to attend graduate school at the University of Kansas Medical Center to pursue a Ph.D. in Biostatistics.

“As a biostatistician, I hope to not only contribute to the well-being of others through my research, but also represent populations who are marginalized in medical research,” Bengs said.

During her research for her honors thesis, Bengs discovered Native Americans are underrepresented in – or excluded from – medical studies and analyses, which can lead to distorted or unknown results.

Bengs said she aims to bring more awareness to marginalized populations and provide more accurate results through her research.

“I hope to positively impact the health of as many people as possible,” Bengs said.

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