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Texas Employee Receives Prestigious National Award

Melissa Sturdivant, soil conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Coleman, Texas, recently received the NRCS Chief’s “Individual Civil Rights Award.” Selected by the Chief’s Civil Rights Advisory Committee, the prestigious National NRCS Individual Civil Rights Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the NRCS’s civil rights program.Melissa Sturdivant, center, is presented with Chief's Individual Civil Rights Award by Texas Acting State Conservationist Drenda Williams, left, and NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr.

Sturdivant was nominated for the award for exceeding her normal duties with her involvement as member of the Texas Civil Rights Advisory Committee (CRAC), as American Indian Alaskan Native Emphasis Program Manager (AIAN) and Tribal Liaison for the past seven years.  She currently serves as Tribal Liaison assisting the NRCS state conservationist and local field offices with outreach and program delivery to the three federally recognized tribes in Texas. 

Observing the need to connect to the American Indian Alaska Native (AIAN) youth, she forged a partnership with the American Indian Education Program (AIEP) in central Texas that services 350 AIAN youth representing 61 federally recognized tribes.  For the last three years, she has developed programs for students for cultural enrichment that included a field trip to Goldthwaite, Texas, mentored students, provided jobs and college scholarships announcements, and other professional development opportunities.

As a member and volunteer, Sturdivant received the American Indian Alaskan Native Employee Association (AIANEA) President’s Award in 2019 for her outstanding leadership and initiative in providing support by consulting with financial and legal professionals in redesigning the scholarship program. Sturdivant was selected by the NRCS regional conservationist to serve a 3-year term as NRCS AIAN employee representative to assist with outreach and advocacy for tribal communities and tribal nations in the central region encompassing 12 states.  In this regional role, she represents and works with employees in the 12 states on developing and implementing strategies to assist the agency with providing services to tribes. She has facilitated the Central Region’s Tribal Liaison Network and the development of a SharePoint site for NRCS tribal liaisons which allows them to store and share resources. 

Sturdivant continues to serve as co-chair of the AIANEA scholarship committee working to develop a strong and sustainable scholarship program that will fulfill AIANEA’s promise to provide educational opportunities to students and tribal communities across the nation. Sturdivant assisted NRCS state conservationists in Wisconsin and Washington with the development of the national tribal liaison training and served as co-chair of communications for the Joint Employee Training Conference. She assisted and was instructor for the tribal liaison training given to 35 employees.

Sturdivant has been a valuable cadre member of the Working Effectively with American Indian Tribes national training course for three years and openly shares her Choctaw culture and family’s history with other NRCS employees so they can have a better understanding of American Indian culture from a fellow employee. She has instructed eight courses, training approximately 480 employees.

Sturdivant took it upon herself to create a newsletter to facilitate the exchange of information concerning cultural awareness and showcases American Indian tribes.  She has done this for three years and it includes one newsletter a week for the month of November in celebration of American Indian Alaskan Native Month, reaching more than 600 employees in Texas.

Sturdivant is also a professional member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and serves as secretary for the Oklahoma Professional Chapter of AISES.