UM’s Incoming Presidential Leadership Scholars Ready to Succeed

July 23, 2019

UM News Service

MISSOULA – Thirty-two top-tier students will attend the University of Montana this fall as Presidential Leadership Scholars.

Recipients are chosen based on leadership, service and academic merit, and their scholarships are renewable for a total of four years. This year’s incoming PLS cohort had an average GPA of 3.92 and an average ACT score of 31. The scholars also are inducted into UM’s Davidson Honors College.

“These top scholars come to us with credentials that distinguish them as some of the finest students and citizens of their generation,” said Tim Nichols, honors college dean. “More exciting than their past achievements, however, is the tremendous potential they bring to the Davidson Honors College. We are even more excited about their futures at the University of Montana, and beyond. As an institution, we are deeply grateful to the generous donors who have made the program possible.”

Nineteen of the incoming students graduated from Montana high schools, with the remainder coming from out of state.

Their majors are as varied as their hometowns, but many have similar interests. Thirty of the incoming scholarship recipients answered a short survey from UM that included a question about how they would change the world if given the opportunity.

Addressing climate change, ending environmental degradation and eliminating pollution were noted by a majority of the PLS students. 

“The most pressing matter that is integral to the health of our globe is climate change,” said Great Falls graduate Taylor Curry. “I would like to see comprehensive legislation involving specifics like single-use plastics and carbon emissions come into effect.”

“A top priority worldwide should be protecting the environment and ensuring the success of the natural world,” said Sabine Englert of Boise, Idaho. “I would change humankind’s general attitude of the Earth being a mere resource for us to use and abuse at our leisure.”

Several other students said they would like to create a political culture of civility.

“I would like to see a world where people with differing opinions could have genuine conversations about the issues that they disagree on without screaming at each other,” said Clara McRae of Helena.  

“At this point, if I could change anything in the world, it would be to eliminate the partisan fighting that has been occurring and escalating within both the U.S. government and other governing bodies around the world,” said Missoula graduate Dylan Yonce.

Other issues near and dear to the students included lowering the cost of medical care, ensuring access to education and better pay for educators, and increasing equality, compassion and empathy.

“I would want to build a more open-minded society,” said Lucas Palmer of Great Falls. “We are all humans, and we should all care about each other.”

“Empathy goes a long way, and moving forward I hope to change the world – even a little bit – by encouraging happiness and compassion in all avenues of life as catalysts for change,” said Emma Thissen, who grew up in Kodiak, Alaska, and completed her senior year in Missoula. 

“I would bring more diversity to my town and state,” said Ben Wambeke of Cody, Wyoming. “To truly come to understand other members of the human race, we must encounter each other face to face and work it out.”

Several of the students plan to study political science. Other popular majors for the incoming PLS class include wildlife biology, journalism, ecosystem science and restoration, and pre-med majors such as neuroscience, chemistry and biology.

Many students said they decided to come to UM because of strong academic programs in their area of study.

“Of the schools in Montana, UM seemed like the best for journalism and film,” said Clint Connors of Butte. “With its interactive courses and distinguished professors, becoming a Griz was a no-brainer.”

“During my college search, I focused on schools that emphasized a liberal arts education with an interdisciplinary focus and that also had a vital theatre community,” said Helena graduate Isabelle Melton. “UM provides all those things while also offering an amazing pre-law advising program and outstanding honors college.”

“I actually had some very determined out-of-state dreams before my college search,” said Karter Bernhardt of Billings, who will study psychology and media arts. “After a few visits and some very profound talks with staff and students [at UM], I realized it would be the perfect place for me to achieve what I want to in my undergraduate studies.”

Several also said UM’s proximity to outdoor recreation weighed heavily in their college decision.

“I choose UM for the beautiful location, in between mountains and forests,” said Elizabeth Todd, an Oakland, California, graduate who also will play soccer at UM. “The environmental connection is my personal favorite part. I wanted a college that is in touch with environmental justice and service.”

The Missoula community was also a strong factor for many PLS honorees.

“The lively community and thriving culture led me to choose UM, and I look forward to getting more involved with it,” said Polson graduate Aubrey Frissell.

“When I first visited the UM campus, I was hooked by how welcoming and natural the environment felt to me compared to the other schools I have visited,” said Aubrey Benson of Portland, Oregon. “A strong sense of community and belonging is something everyone wants in their lives, and at UM I felt like I finally had found my place where I could thrive.”

“We are thrilled to have this incredibly impressive group of students join us in the fall,” said Katelyn Cordingley, director of career development and community partnerships in the honors college. “Our applicants were not just competitive on paper with high GPAs and test scores, they are also incredible young leaders who had their pick of schools and chose UM to be their launching point for learning, growing and changing the world.”

Read more about UM’s incoming class of Presidential Leadership Scholars at


Contact: Katie Cordingley, director of career development and community partnerships, UM Davidson Honors College, 406-243-2579,