University of Maine at Machias Student Overcomes Tragedies, Wins National Scholarship

Ponuwon Wocuhsis Brodeur, a junior at UMM, is turning tragedy into action. During the fall 2017 semester, four members of Brodeur’s family died for reasons related to mental health. Her response? Work harder. Now, a national foundation has taken notice.

The 35-year-old junior is one of only 50 people in the United States to be awarded a prestigious Udall Scholarship. She is the only Udall Scholar in Maine this year. Nationally, 437 students were nominated.

A member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Brodeur is enrolled in UMM’s Psychology and Community Studies program. In January 2018, she changed her enrollment status from part-time to full-time as a personal response to multiple family tragedies that inspired her to graduate more quickly. In the fall 2017 semester, Brodeur lost two sisters and one cousin to heroin overdoses, and another cousin to suicide. Additionally, she lost an uncle to illness in the same time period.

In January 2018, she and her three children left a relationship and moved into her brother’s house, essentially making her homeless and without employment.

Across all of these events, Brodeur maintained straight A’s. At the end of the fall semester, with five family deaths immediately behind her, Brodeur enrolled full-time for the spring. She says, “I looked at my life and said, ‘If I can get through all that, I can be a full-time student so I can graduate faster and start making an impact sooner.'”

“The essay I wrote for the Udall was about using all this tragedy as an inspiration instead of allowing it to defeat me.” she says. “My dream is to build a Wabanki crisis response system. I want to honor the people I’ve lost in this way.”

Udall Scholarships are awarded to undergraduate students seeking careers in three areas: environment, Native American health care, and tribal public policy. Thirty-four students were nominated in the Native American Health Care category, and just 6 were awarded scholarships. The award includes $7,000 toward each student’s senior year and participation in a multi-day event in Arizona this summer other scholars and program alumni to learn more about Udall’s legacy of public service. Scholars will also have an opportunity to interact with national leaders in their respective fields.