Swain County and Cherokee High Graduates Awarded Undergraduate Scholarships and Research Support at UNC Asheville

(L to R) UNC Asheville 2021 graduate Corbin Wildcatt and Caden Pheasant Class of 2025
July 27, 2021

UNC Asheville 2021 graduate Corbin Wildcatt has been awarded a Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (SIGP) grant, providing $1,500 in summer research support. This grant follows four years of scholarship support from an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s partnership with UNC Asheville.

As a graphic artist, videographer, and streamer, Wildcatt is working on a documentary and researching options for graduate school. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the SIGP supports American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students pursuing graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The grant strives to increase the number of Indigenous Americans earning master’s and doctoral degrees in STEM disciplines.

A graduate of Swain County High school from Cherokee (Birdtown), North Carolina, Wildcatt earned a degree in new media with a minor in American Indian and Indigenous Studies at UNC Asheville. While a student at UNC Asheville, his cost of attendance was covered by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians through an institutional credit agreement with the University.

Through this agreement, established in 2015, UNC Asheville will reserve up to 10 admissions slots for new, incoming, academically qualified EBCI members each semester. The EBCI will cover the students’ cost of attendance and UNC Asheville will grant in-state residence status to all students receiving full EBCI scholarships.

“That also motivated me to finish so I could attain my education and also get paid while I was doing it,” said Wildcatt, who cites his faculty connections as additional motivation. “I would like to say that the professors at UNCA were some of my favorite teachers in my whole life. To get the experience of being surrounded by intelligent people who are willing to have conversations about important subjects is something that helps you learn a lot about the world. …Some of the amazing staff that I would like to thank are Trey Adcock, director of American Indian & Indigenous Studies, and [New Media Professor] Lei Han. They both helped me grow as a student and as a person!”

UNC Asheville is the first undergraduate institution in the nation to be part of the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership (SIGP). The four-year sub-award announced in 2020 stems from the Sloan Foundation’s $4.5 million dollar grant to Purdue University. It provides undergraduate research stipends, off-campus research experiences, attendance at National American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) meetings, and graduate school visits. It also invites Cherokee High School students to enroll in Intro to Computers and Multimedia, taught by UNC Asheville SIGP co-lead Susan Reiser. The course offers college credits, as well as course materials and machine time at UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio.

That initial connection encourages students to pursue their undergraduate studies at UNC Asheville. This fall, UNC Asheville will welcome incoming student Caden Pheasant, a Cherokee High School graduate from Cherokee, North Carolina. Pheasant, who wants to focus on business and entrepreneurship, is one of five McRae Scholars in the UNC Asheville Class of 2025. He earned the University Merit Award, a comprehensive scholarship offered to first-time applicants, by demonstrating academic excellence, a passion for an academic program offered at UNC Asheville, extracurricular engagement and exemplary community leadership.

Pheasant plans to major in management as part of the UNC Asheville Honors Program. His experience and previous accolades include co-leader of the Tree and Language Cultural Project, vice president of the Cherokee HOSA Chapter, and active membership in the National Honor Society as well as the CHS World Changers. He earned a certificate in business administration from Southwestern Community College and graduated with highest honors.

As a McRae Scholar at UNC Asheville, Pheasant will receive $50,000 over four years. Each McRae Scholar receives $10,000 in scholarship support yearly with an additional $10,000 to support study abroad, undergraduate research, and internships, all of which are hallmarks of the historically strong liberal arts and sciences education received at UNC Asheville. The Selby and Richard McRae Foundation fund the McRae Scholarships.

The McRae Scholars, as well as University Scholars and Provost Scholarships, are available to both in-state and out-of-state students and recognize undergraduate scholars with exceptional academic accomplishments, demonstrated leadership, and potential to be a pace-setter in their academic life and future beyond college. Nominations are accepted annually. Students seeking to transfer to UNC Asheville may also qualify for merit-based scholarships. To apply, go to unca.edu/apply.

Sloan Foundation funding complements a series of UNC Asheville partnerships aimed to support indigenous students, including memorandums of understanding with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and with the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET). The University’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program aids the study and preservation of the Cherokee language and mobilizes undergraduate students to study, preserve and present knowledge of the history of the Cherokee people.

To learn more, visit https://ist.unca.edu/learn/american-indian-and-indigenous-studies/. For more information about UNC Asheville’s SIGP Program, visit https://sigp.wp.unca.edu/.