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HomeNewsMontana NewsDoriane Keiser receives prestigious Udall Scholarship

Doriane Keiser receives prestigious Udall Scholarship

BOZEMAN – Doriane Keiser came to Montana State University planning to return one day to the Fork Peck Indian Reservation where she grew up. She hopes to improve the community’s mental health services and resources – a goal the faculty members who know her are certain she will achieve.

“During my first conversation with Doriane, I could tell she was passionate about transforming mental and emotional well-being and support back home,” said Steven Davis, who works with Keiser in his roles as assistant dean of the MSU Honors College and director of its Honor Bound program.

Keiser, a Presidential Scholar who is finishing her junior year majoring in psychology and community health with minors in sociology and human development, came one step closer to her goal this month when she was named one of 55 Udall Undergraduate Scholarship winners nationwide. The scholarship, worth up to $7,000, recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional leadership, community service and involvement in the fields of health care, environment or public policy surrounding American Indian and Alaska Native communities and issues.

Keiser ultimately plans to become a clinical psychologist. She wants to work both with individuals and within institutions, such as schools and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that effective mental health interventions and referrals for people in crisis are available in the Fort Peck community. She first learned about careers in the field when taking online psychology and criminology classes in high school while watching many young people, including her younger sister, struggle with mental health issues without finding help to deal with them.

“There was a lot of suicide on the reservation – I saw it over and over again in middle school and high school,” she said, adding that the situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from occasional short programs presented to students in schools, Keiser said, “we never really got an education on it.” To her knowledge, few in the community were equipped to help students develop suicide prevention safety plans.

She said that when an acquaintance of hers attempted suicide, he was sent to juvenile detention instead of being referred for mental health help. Then, when Keiser was a high school senior, her sister died by suicide.

“Growing up seeing examples of how mental health issues can affect an individual ended up leading me to want to pursue an education in the mental health realm,” she said. “Losing my sister just solidified my passion and drive to gain the ability to help other individuals who are struggling like my little sister.”

To acquire the necessary skills to achieve her goals, Keiser plans to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. In the meantime, she has found ways to connect with Indigenous communities, including a project that has taken her back to Fort Peck with the MSU chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to teach engineering and  programming skills to fifth- and sixth-graders while flying miniature drones.

“Before I came to MSU, I never knew engineering was a thing, so making such a huge impact on these students’ lives through this activity was very nice,” said Keiser, who is the current president of MSU’s AISES chapter.

Nicholas Stadie, the chapter’s faculty adviser and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said the outreach project is becoming an annual tradition and is just one example of Keiser’s passion for fostering connections between communities and exchange of goodwill.

“Doriane is proud of her identity and engages with a wide range of Indigenous initiatives, tackling issues like food sovereignty, stress and youth mentorship,” Stadie said. “She clearly has a natural talent for and tendency toward public policy and a strong connection to her home community.”

Among her other activities at MSU, Keiser has served as a research assistant to Neha John-Henderson, associate professor of psychology, who is leading a study on the relationship between social connectedness, health and stress on the Blackfeet Reservation; bundled seeds bound for Indigenous communities with the Buffalo Nations Food System Initiative, a project of the Department of Native American Studies and the College of Education, Health and Human Development; traveled with the Honor Bound program to learn aquaponic farming techniques from Indigenous Hawaiians; worked with MSU’s McNair Scholars program to explore the impact of cultural exchanges on Native American and Alaska Native students at MSU; and served as a senator in student government representing the College of Letters and Science during her sophomore year.

“Her vast potential and future accomplishments will be limited only by the hours in her day,” said Davis, who predicts Keiser will go on to make a generational impact through her profession. “She’s going to transform people’s lives at both the individual and community level, not just as a clinical practitioner but as a scholar and researcher. I really believe the best is yet to come.”

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