Native American students benefit from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Coming from Adair County, one of the poorest counties in Oklahoma, was going to make attending Oklahoma State University difficult for Tori Coates.

Coates grew up as part of the Choctaw Nation in small-town Westville, just a few minutes west of the Arkansas border. Her parents were supportive of her collegiate endeavors, but with a younger sister entering college as well, they found it impossible to provide any financial assistance beyond living expenses.

Tori Coates

Tori Coates, Johnson Scholarship Foundation Scholar

“Scholarships are the only reason I am here, absolutely,” says Coates, who will graduate with a human resource management degree from the Spears School of Business in May 2018. “Coming from one of the poorest counties in Oklahoma, it’s difficult for my parents to provide for both my sister and me. I knew paying for education was on my own, and with aspirations of going to graduate school, I recognized that student loans were not an option for me, or I’d be in a lot of debt in the future.

“I applied for a lot of scholarships and worked two jobs in order to stay. Scholarships like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation make it where I can focus on my studies and be successful.”

Getting out of a small town and attending a big university was an exciting and growing time for Coates. She loves being part of traditions such as attending sporting events and participating in organizations as well as experiencing the diversity she didn’t encounter in Westville.

“There’s so much to learn, and I enjoy that,” Coates says. “I just want to say thank you to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and all the donors that made this possible for me. OSU has been so life-changing for me. Scholarships are not just a blessing for me, but my whole family and everyone supporting me. It’s a huge investment that I don’t take lightly.”

“We applaud the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for the countless lives it has improved through its support of education,” OSU President Burns Hargis says. “Oklahoma State has a long history of preparing Native American students for success and we greatly appreciate the Johnson Scholarship Foundation partnering alongside us in this worthwhile endeavor.”

“The Foundation chose OSU because it is one of the country’s leaders in providing education to indigenous students,” says Malcolm Macleod, president of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. “OSU’s new Center for Sovereign Nations under-lines its dedication and connection to this diverse and growing population. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation focuses on business education as part of a strategy to catalyze economic development in indigenous communities. OSU has a stellar business program and a School of Entrepreneurship. OSU’s emphasis on business and its commitment to indigenous students make it a natural partner for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.”

The Foundation’s focus on indigenous people stems from Johnson’s desire to improve quality of life, and by equipping Native Americans with tools and business education, it seeks to do just that. With OSU’s record as a national leader for Native American graduates, it was an obvious choice for the two to pair up.

“Supporting the endowment of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation fund at OSU is a proven successful investment,” says Elizabeth Payne, director for the Center for Sovereign Nations at OSU and principal investigator for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation grant for OSU business students. “We have continued to increase the numbers of American Indian students at all three levels of collegiate education. With Oklahoma being home to 39 federally recognized tribal nations, it makes sense that OSU should be the best place to invest in American Indian higher education.”

Further demonstrating the importance of providing business education for Native Americans, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation is challenging OSU to raise funds for permanent endowment. If OSU can raise $1.3 million over the next three years, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation will make a matching gift of $1 for every $2 donated by others.

Matching Opportunity

Endowment goal: $2 million
Match ratio: $1 in matching funds for every $2 donated
Sample gift: A $50,000 donation would be matched with $25,000 from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, and would generate approximately $3,000 per year in scholarship funds in perpetuity.
Time frame: OSU needs to raise approximately $450,000 each year (from 2017 to 2019) to reach the goal and receive the matching funds.
Benefits: Donors would increase the impact of their generosity and have the opportunity to meet scholarship recipients. By designating your gift to Native American students majoring in business, you could qualify for a match and further OSU’s leadership in enhancing opportunities for Native American students.
How to help: For more information or to make a gift, visit or contact Jeromie Tucker of the OSU Foundation at or 405.385.0736.

“It speaks volumes for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation to partner with Oklahoma State University to offer a scholarship for Native American students in Oklahoma,” says Diane Crane, senior director of development for the Spears School of Business at the OSU Foundation. “The Johnson Scholarship Foundation could give money anywhere, but they believe that OSU is the best university to serve underprivileged Native Americans. In Oklahoma, the state with the second-largest Native American population, that means almost 350,000 people have an opportunity to better themselves.”

Johnson Foundation Scholars

2017 Johnson Scholarship Foundation Scholars

Just an hour and a half down the road from OSU’s Stillwater campus in Mustang, Oklahoma, accounting sophomore Luke Fillmore benefited from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Coming from a middle-class Cherokee Nation family, Fillmore’s parents could provide more for his education but couldn’t afford to cover every aspect. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation helped keep Fillmore afloat.

“The scholarship has benefited me in so many ways,” Fillmore says. “I had to take out student loans and it was putting me in debt, but the Johnson Scholarship Foundation helped take care of some of that debt for me, so I’m not so far under-water once I leave this campus. I appreciate everything that I’ve received, and I am trying to be the best person and citizen I can and contribute to my community, and I couldn’t do that without the help of this scholarship.”

OSU has been recognized locally and nationally for its commitment to diversity. In 2016 alone, OSU was recognized by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Minority Access Inc.; the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce’s diversity business council, Mosaic, for having a five-star inclusive workplace culture; by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award for the fifth consecutive year; and the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education’s Institutional Excellence Award.

OSU’s commitment to continuing the support of diversity and education is reflected in the endowment of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation fund. To learn more about OSU’s Institutional Diversity office, visit