ADA – As student body president holding a 4.0 grade point average, Cullen Edens is a well-known personality around the campus East Central University. Now the senior Accounting major has permanently etched his name in ECU history.
Edens, of Ada, is the 2020 recipient of ECU’s prestigious George Nigh Award.
“In our lives, we all have experiences that change us forever,” said Edens, a 2016 graduate of Latta High School. “For me, winning this award is one of those moments. The support of family, friends, colleagues, professors, and the ECU administration has played an instrumental role in my success, and I appreciate and thank God for all the guidance.”
The George Nigh Award goes to the top graduating senior from ECU and is named in honor of the former governor of Oklahoma and ECU alumnus. Nigh served four terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, four of them as lieutenant governor and two as governor. Nigh also served as president of the University of Central Oklahoma.
“We had exceptional Nigh finalists this year, and it must have been a difficult decision for the selection committee to choose only one,” said ECU President Katricia Pierson. “Each student has unique strengths, and all five finalists have a passion to help others. Cullen adds a level of leadership and commitment that makes him an outstanding student and deserving of this year’s George Nigh Award.”
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.
News of winning the award was conveyed to Edens via telephone by President Pierson. The coronavirus pandemic prevented the traditional formal banquet setting and award presentation ceremony this year.
“ECU has instilled in me that ‘if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough,’” Edens said. “This University has proven to me that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is, if you are willing to commit to your goals, anything is possible.”
Edens completed an eye-popping list of achievements while at ECU, accomplishing as much in four years as some do in an entire working career. In addition to the aforementioned spotless academic record and leadership role in student government, he tutored fellow Accounting students, led the expansion of recycling efforts, organized campus-wide fundraisers, and worked with peers and administration to make ECU a safer and more enjoyable experience for all.
“My personal mission statement is to empower and inspire every single person I encounter to overcome the obstacles they have faced to be the person they were meant to be,” Edens said. “The career goals I have set before me reflect my mission in life. I only strive to live a life that cultivates a positive difference in the world around me.”
As an Accounting major, Edens was inducted into ECU’s exclusive Business Scholar Leader program. His involvement in the program took him to Seattle, Washington, and overseas to Uganda. Edens is a member of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society as well as the Delta Mu Delta National Honor Society for Business Administration and Accounting majors.
Edens also competed in the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup, a statewide collegiate business plan competition that simulates the process of researching a market, writing a business plan, and making a presentation to potential investors. His proposed company, called “Eco-Snap Tiles,” creates flooring tiles out of recycled plastic. For every square foot of tile he sells, a square foot is donated to a home in Uganda to eradicate preventable foot diseases caused by poor sanitation.
April 23, 2020, turned out to be a big day for Edens. On the same day he learned he was the Nigh Award winner, he also picked up a couple of awards for his “Eco-Snap Tiles” at the Love’s Cup competition. Oklahoma Business Roundtable awarded him a $5,000 Paulsen Scholarship Award in the Small Business category and he was also named Small Business Interview winner, picking up another $1,000 award. He earned an additional $1,000 for making the finals.
On campus, Edens served on the Shared Horizons Strategic Plan Committee, led University-wide sessions known as President’s Club that trained organization presidents on leadership and development through the Office of Campus Involvement, and co-authored a resolution with three other student government representatives to ban firearms on the ECU campus.
Edens didn’t limit his involvement to campus borders. He’s the youngest person to ever serve on the board of directors of the non-profit Ada Homeless Services. The consummate community volunteer and servant, he mentored local elementary students and helped disaster victims through his church affiliation. He also traveled to Nicaragua on a church ministry trip and worked with youth there. He also worked throughout his college years at People’s Electric Cooperative in Ada, gaining valuable experience in his chosen field.
“The end of my career at ECU could be described as bittersweet,” Edens said. “However, I will take all of these experiences, learning opportunities, and accomplishments with me into my career. The connections and memories I’ve made at ECU are what I’ll treasure most.”
Edens said his ultimate career goals include working for federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Pentagon. Upon graduation from ECU in May, he will intern with accounting firm Ernst & Young in Tulsa in their audit and assurance practice. Having already interned at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, he will begin his working career there in August in the U.S. Air Force’s top management development program. His further plans also include earning higher degrees in Business Administration.
Following is biographical information on the other four finalists.
A senior from Noble, Anderson graduates with a major in Molecular Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Her perfect 4.0 GPA ensured her a permanent spot on the President’s Honor Roll. She is member of the Alpha Chi National Honor and the Tr-Beta Biology societies.
While at ECU, Anderson was involved in the President’s Leadership Class, Tri-Beta Biology Club, and Tigers Against Human Trafficking. She worked in ECU’s Tutor Zone and was active in the Baptist Student Union. Outside of campus, she served at the Compassion Outreach Center Free Clinic and volunteered with the Backyard Bible Club and Abba’s Tables, an organization that feeds the homeless.
Anderson’s future plans include attending the Tulsa-based Physician’s Assistant Program at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Community Medicine.
“Ultimately, I want to live my life in service to others in whatever community I find myself in,” Anderson said. “I strongly believe that a career as a PA will allow me to fulfill this goal in the best way possible.”
Heitland, of Sulphur, graduates with a major in English (Teacher Certification) and a minor in Political Science. She maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her four years at ECU, ensuring she graduates with the highest of honors.
Active in ECU’s outstanding Honors Program, Heitland also founded and served as president of the Environmental Advocates club on campus. She was active in student government and Young Democrats and earned numerous writing and mock trial event awards. Heitland claimed membership in several national and international honor societies, including Sigma Tau Delta (English), Alpha Chi, Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science), and Pi Lambda Theta (Education).
On campus, Heitland volunteered for voter registration drives, and film and writing festivals. Off campus, she donated her time at the Pontotoc Animal Welfare Society and Abba’s Tables.
“After graduating from East Central, I will teach,” Heitland said. “I am currently applying for teaching positions in the Oklahoma City area and I hope to obtain a job teaching high school English Language Arts.”
Hailing from Goldsby, Maurer earns a Business Administration degree with a concentration in Management, as well as certificates in Human Resource Management, Banking and Finance, and Global Business. She achieved a cumulative 4.0 at ECU as well.
Maurer spent a semester studying abroad at Swansea University in Wales as a Brad Henry International Scholar in 2019, an opportunity that allowed her to also explore England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
At ECU’s Stonecipher School of Business, she served as Business Scholars class president, Business Leaders Association president and vice president, and president of the ECU chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.
While on campus, Maurer served as a senator with ECU’s Student Government Association and as a member of the Dean’s Council. She was inducted into the Alpha Chi National Honor Society and Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society, serving as secretary this past year.
Maurer has also been a Swansea International Ambassador and a member of the Swansea Equestrian Club. A horse enthusiast, she also volunteered at the J.D. McCarty Center in Norman as a horse leader for children with disabilities at the center’s summer camp.
“I strongly feel that healthcare administration is an area where I could greatly succeed while giving back to the community,” Maurer said. “My primary objective is to ensure that my career puts me in a position to enrich the lives of those around me.”
From Marietta, Winchester earned her bachelor’s degree in Accounting from ECU in 2019, maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA the entire time. She is now in pursuit of a master’s degree in the same field with an expected December 2020 graduation date.
Winchester is an accomplished student-athlete. She competed on the ECU Cross Country and Track teams all four years and earned multiple accolades, both from the NCAA and the Great American Conference of which ECU is a member.
Winchester also excelled in the classroom. She’s been a fixture in the ECU Honors Program every year of her college career. She participated in ECU’s Business Scholar Leaders program, the Business Leaders Association (serving as secretary one year), and the ECU Student Center for the Public Trust. She is a member of Alpha Chi and Delta Mu Delta honor societies, Dean’s Council, and the Native American Student Association.
Off campus, Winchester volunteered for Abba’s Tables and Avery’s Books for Children. She has also mentored Ada elementary school students and the Marietta Cross Country team.
“My immediate plans are to graduate with a master’s degree in Accounting and earn my CPA licensure,” Winchester said. “Once I graduate, I plan on working at a mid-size firm in Oklahoma City as an auditor.”