UM Student Earns Prestigious Udall Scholarship

UM student Elani Borhegyi recently won the prestigious Udall Scholarship.

By Kyle Spurr, UM News Service         

MISSOULA – University of Montana student Elani Borhegyi is the latest in a long line of Grizzlies to win a Udall Scholarship, considered one of the top recognitions awarded to students in fields related to Native American nations or the environment. 

Borhegyi – a junior majoring in environmental science and sustainability with minors in climate change studies, Spanish and biology – is one of 55 sophomores and juniors from 49 colleges and universities across the nation to earn the recognition this year from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. 

An additional 55 students nationwide were awarded honorable mentions, including Alexios Smith, a UM junior majoring in forestry. Smith, along with UM student Raina Woolworth, received the scholarship in 2021. 

Borhegyi will receive a $7,000 scholarship for academic expenses, access to the Udall Alumni Network and travel to Tucson, Arizona in August for an orientation to network and learn new skills. 

“It’s going to open up a lot of doors for me,” Borhegyi said. “I’m excited to see what opportunities it brings and how I can use the scholarship to further my career goals in ecological restoration.” 

Dr. Kylla Benes, director of external scholarships and fellowships at UM, said Borhegyi exemplifies what it means to put knowledge and convictions into action.

Benes noted Borhegyi’s work helping to draft UM’s Sustainability Action Plan, building collaboration across student groups, raising awareness around social justice and protesting last summer on the front line at a pipeline project through Minnesota.

“The positive impact of their work is palpable on and off campus and it is why, I believe, they were chosen for this honor,” Benes said.

UM students should not hesitate to leverage their passion and achievements to apply for scholarships as Borhegyi did, Benes said.

“UM is a top producer of Udall Scholars,” Benes said. “The emphasis on place, community and experiential learning at UM allows many students to engage deeply in issues around the environment and Native American communities and is likely why our students have found success in applying for the Udall Scholarship.”

Borhegyi of Newton, Massachusetts near Boston came to UM with an interest in biology and natural sciences. Over time, Borhegyi discovered a passion for restoration ecology, environmental justice and climate change, and how all three are connected. 

“I want to work at the intersection of all three,” Borhegyi said. “I realized I want my career to not just be about science, but about how ecology impacts us in our everyday lives and how we are a part of the ecosystem.” 

Borhegyi, who served as president of the Climate Response Club, recently organized the Four Sisters Garden at the PEAS Farm in Missoula. Drawing upon the traditional agricultural methods of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations, Borhegyi and other community members will plant sunflowers, corn, beans and squash to promote Indigenous ecological knowledge. 

“It’s been a really cool project to teach community members and myself about Indigenous knowledge-based agriculture and regenerative farming techniques,” Borhegyi said. 

This fall, Borhegyi will be in a Wilderness and Civilization program and will write a senior thesis on reimagining society’s relationship to the environment in the face of climate change.

Borhegyi was grateful for the opportunity to apply for the Udall Scholarship, adding that the application process alone was a valuable exercise in examining academic passions in ecological restoration. 

“It’s been a chance to define my story,” Borhegyi said. “And to discover what I’m all about.” 


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,