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Group photo of the George Nigh Award finalists: Pictured from left are finalists Amanda Daniel, Blake Thomas, Carson Sandvik; Gov. George Nigh, Dr. Jeffrey Gibson, Dr. Sarah Peters, finalists Kiley Moore, Abigail Fowler and Katelen Cowger.

Group photo of the George Nigh Award finalists: Pictured from left are finalists Amanda Daniel, Blake Thomas, Carson Sandvik; Gov. George Nigh, Dr. Jeffrey Gibson, Dr. Sarah Peters, finalists Kiley Moore, Abigail Fowler and Katelen Cowger.


Graduating Senior Carson Sandvik was named the 2022 George Nigh Award winner at East Central University’s commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 7.

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.

“Thank you for this outstanding opportunity to apply for such a prestigious award,” Sandvik said. “I am extremely honored to be selected.”

Sandvik, from Bethany, was one of six finalists for the award. The other five finalists were Katelen Cowger of Ada, Amanda Daniel of Norman, Abigail Fowler of Byng, Kiley Moore of McAlester, and Blake Thomas of Yukon.

Sandvik majored in Biology with a minor in Kinesiology with a 4.0 GPA. He is a member of Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society, a McNair Scholar, and member of Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society. While at ECU, Sandvik competed with the cross country and track & field teams as captain, he was president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteered at Ada First Baptist Church, and was a STEM Tutor. He earned three Great American Conference Elite Scholar-Athlete honors, top GPA from those participating in the cross country and track & field tournaments, and three Division II Athletic Directors Association and six GAC Academic Team honors.

Sandvik led the Tigers in both cross country and track & field, helping the cross country team earn the GAC championship in 2018 and 2020.  Over his four-year career he earned All-GAC Second Team honors twice and All-GAC First Team accolades his final two seasons.  He also added one All-GAC Second Team award in the 5,000 meters and finished out his career with All-GAC First Team honors in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in 2022.

Sandvik said he plans to continue his education at the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Physical Therapy beginning June 6. Upon completion, he plans to begin an orthopedic rehabilitation physical therapy program.

“My goal is to help restore enjoyment to people’s lives by evaluating, managing, and correcting the issues, injuries, and illnesses that are brought on by sports, careers, or simply aging,” Sandvik said. “I have always loved helping people and I believe this is the best opportunity to use my knowledge and passions to provide outstanding care. I want to be the person leading the hurting to a better life in all areas possible.”

But he doesn’t want to stop there.

“One goal would include inventing a new protocol that would supply quicker and more efficient rehabilitation in post-operation procedures,” he said.

Sandvik ultimately wants to use his experience in healthcare to volunteer as an overseas missionary in impoverished countries.

“This would be the ultimate way to bless those who cannot afford or access healthcare while being a light in the dark world,” Sandvik said.


The five other Nigh finalists also built extraordinary resumes and experiences. Following are only brief summaries of their accomplishments.

Gov. George Nigh and Katelen Cowger

Katelen Cowger maintained a 4.0 GPA while earning a bachelor’s degree in English and Native American Studies. Her honors and awards include the Honors Program Scholarship, Thomas-King Honors Scholarship Recipient, Wanita Danley English Honors Scholarship, Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society member, Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, cross country and track & field scholarship. She earned three Division II Athletic Directors Association Academic Achievement awards, six GAC Academic Team honors, and four GAC Elite Scholar-Athlete accolades.

She was a member of the cross country and track & field teams for four seasons, helping the cross country team to a GAC Runner-Up finish in 2017. She finished her career with a sixth-place finish at the 2022 GAC Championships, good for All-GAC Second Team accolades in the 1,500 meters.

Cowger has also volunteered within the Ada community, including Abba’s Tables and Pontotoc Animal Welfare Shelter.

Future plans lead her to the University of Oklahoma’s English Department Master’s Program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. She has received a Rada Fellowship and an appointment as a graduate teaching assistant. She will work with OU professors to further decolonize Native women’s image in popular culture. Beyond her master’s, Cowger plans to pursue a doctorate in Rhetoric and Writing Studies with a specialty in Native American Literature.


Gov. George Nigh and Amanda Daniel

Amanda Daniel earned her bachelor’s degree in English Education, earning departmental honors while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She was inducted into the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society in Fall 2019, Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society in Spring 2019, Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society Spring 2018. She also earned the Ozella Elizabeth Waner English Scholarship, and a University Academic Scholarship in 2017.

While at ECU, Daniel was able to experiment with her creative talents with ECU Theatre and while on an internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

“My ultimate goal is to work in advocacy for education,” she said. Her passion for creating accessible classrooms is reflected in her honors presentations, “Importance of Arts in Public Education” and “Embracing Silenced Identities in the Classroom,” and her English Department Capstone Showcase, “Multimodal Systems in Education: Creating Accessible Classrooms.”  


Gov. George Nigh and Abigail Fowler

Abigail Fowler earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Spanish, maintaining her 4.0 GPA throughout her college career. She has been a part of the ECU Honors Program, Spanish Club, The National Society of Leadership & Success, Pre-Physicians Club, and McNair Scholars program. Fowler is also a member of the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society and Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society. Her community involvement includes volunteering at The Refuge, Homer Elementary as a tutor, and also donating at the Oklahoma Blood Institute and Compassion Outreach Center.

Her undergraduate research focused on honeybee pollen and its biotic and abiotic effects. Fowler’s goal is to own a pediatric clinic in the Oklahoma to care for those in need. Her plans will lead her to medical school, then complete her residency. Fowler also wants to share her knowledge and training to those in developing nations.


Gov. George Nigh and Kiley Moore

Kiley Moore graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services Counseling in Dec. 2021 and is currently working on her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health and Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling in hopes to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor. She maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her educational career and completed 100-plus hours of community service. Moore was a member of the ECU Honors Program and Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society.

Upon completion of her master’s degree, Moore will work at Massey Counseling in McAlester. She plans to continue her education and pursue a doctorate at Oklahoma State University.


Gov. George Nigh and Blake Thomas

Blake Thomas rounds out the George Nigh Finalists with a 4.0 GPA in his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology – Management Information Systems. He also earned certificates in Management Information Systems and Project Management. At ECU, Thomas was involved in the Alpha Chi National Collegiate Honor Society, graduated with honors, was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success, and the National Technical Honor Society. He was president of the ECU student body and the ECU Student Government Association, he was in the ECU Anime club, a Stonecipher School of Business Scholar Leader, and a member of Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society.

He is currently employed at Paycom in Oklahoma City and studying for and obtaining certifications to further his skills.

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