It takes a lot to stand out from a crowd of outstanding professionals under age 30 from across the state. But, 296 young Oklahomans did just that this year and were recognized by iON Oklahoma magazine at the 2016 NextGen Under 30 Awards Dinner and Ceremony on Nov. 18 in Oklahoma City. Four of those recipients are Choctaw, with one receiving an additional honor, presented for the first time – the Mark Costello Spirit Award.
Ta’Na Alexander, NextGen award-winner in the Science, Technology, and Engineering category, also was named the recipient of the first Mark Costello Spirit Award. The Oklahoma City Choctaw was one of two people from this elite group selected to receive the award.
“I thought, ‘Wow! To be chosen for this’,” Alexander said, “It just humbled me. I was very touched.”
The family of the late Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello created the award and made the selections based on achievements and potential of the individuals. Costello’s daughter, model and actor Anna-Marie Costello of New York, was in attendance to present the awards.
Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center held the event. J.C. Watts, CEO of Feed the Children and former U.S. Representative from Oklahoma, was the keynote speaker. The former University of Oklahoma Football Coach Barry Switzer introduced, and Gov. Mary Fallin presented the awards.
Three of the NextGen award-winning Choctaws work in Durant for the Choctaw Nation – Kolton Prince, of Texoma Print Services; Shauna Williams, Director of the Project Management Office at Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce; and Twauna Williams, Leadership and Talent Development Manager for the Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce.
In an earlier statement, Prince said, “I have been working for Texoma Print Services/Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma for over ten years, starting at only 17 years old… then moving my way up to sales and seeing our company relocate into a brand new building,” and, he noted, getting to see the shop grow to do ten times the business. A graduate of Victory Life Academy, where he was an All-Stater in football, Prince showed he was more than a star athlete when he joined the ranks of the Christian Honor Society, and put himself through Southeastern Oklahoma State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health. “I feel very honored to be a part of the 2016 Under 30 class,” he said.
Shauna Williams has served in her position since June of this year, but before that she was Director of Project Management at Choctaw Casinos of Oklahoma for two years. The award’s Tribal Government Gaming category recognized her. “I’m honored and very humbled to be recognized as one of Oklahoma’s NextGen Under 30,” she said. Giving credit for her success, she said, “The Choctaw Nation played a significant role in my pursuit of higher education, especially the attainment of my MBA which opened more professional opportunities for me.”
Also a winner in the Tribal Government Gaming category, Twauna Williams holds degrees from three different schools, including a master’s in Business Administration from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. With almost ten years of experience working with Native Americans in higher education and leadership development, she was a peer advisor in college and graduate school, program manager for the Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program, and Coordinator of Native American Affairs at Oklahoma State University. Williams said, “The Choctaw Nation has been a huge part of my professional growth starting with the opportunities offered through youth and educational programs.”
Alexander is a student and works in the area of cardiovascular disease research. She is the daughter of businesswoman and former actress Nuchi Nashoba. Both are members of the Choctaw Code Talkers Association. Originally from the small town of Dibble, Alexander traveled extensively as a child. While there were many options for the direction of her life and career, the 24-year-old has the focus and enthusiasm of a laser beam today.
“I will not be limited when it comes to impacting the lives of others,” Alexander stated. “I am currently studying biomedical sciences and working part-time as a research laboratory technician. It allows me to see the amount of strength you have to have to fight for the unknown, and every day have your mind and heart in the right place.”
It is a platform she will strive to continue while earning her degree at Oklahoma City University.
She has already accumulated a variety of certifications, an associate of science degree from Oklahoma City Community College, and has plans to apply at the University of Oklahoma to seek a graduate degree in International Business.
“An important thing for me is to help others identify with the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic (STEM) Education to improve the diversity of understanding how STEM and scientific policy relate to the general public, and what it can do for the future of our great state. Possibilities are endless, and I’m very excited for the future.”
For more information about the NextGen Under 30 Awards, including a complete list of honorees, visit http://nextgenunder30.com/. You may learn about iON Oklahoma by visiting www.ionok.com.