Neena Shell '26 Named Udall Tribal Public Policy Scholar

News subtitle

The program identifies students committed to Native issues and the environment.

Neena Shell sitting in front of bookshelves
Neena Shell ’26 has been working on legal issues related to Indigenous communities. (Photo by Robert Gill)

Neena Shell ’26 has been awarded a scholarship to study tribal public policy from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. The prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship Program identifies future leaders in environmental, tribal public policy, and health care fields. 

Shell, a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow majoring in Native American and Indigenous studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, says the news left her speechless.

“It reaffirmed that studying Native American and Indigenous studies and committing my life to working for my communities was the right choice,” says Shell, a citizen of the Diné, or Navajo Nation.

Shell was among 55 students selected from a pool of more than 400 candidates, based on their leadership potential, record of public service, academic achievements, and commitment to careers related to Native issues or the environment. The scholarship offers networking opportunities, workshops, and up to $7,000 for academic expenses. 

A flutist and longtime ballerina, Shell had intended to study music and dance. But she had also considered law, and during a gap year before college, she cemented her plan.

One of her cousins had attended Dartmouth, and as she learned about the community and academic opportunities, “it felt like everything fit together really nicely,” says Shell, who nonetheless hasn’t hung up her pointe shoes—she is currently president of Dartmouth Classical Ballet Theater

At Dartmouth, she’s been inspired by N. Bruce Duthu ’80, the Samson Occom Professor and chair of Native American and Indigenous Studies.

“Professor Duthu is one of the top Indigenous legal scholars in the world, so it’s really an honor and a privilege to have him as a mentor,” says Shell, whose future plans include a PhD program or law school, and working to support the Navajo Nation. “To see how he dedicates himself to his community, both at home and here at Dartmouth, is really something special, and something I want to be able to do one day.”

As an Energy Justice Clinic research collaborator working with the Mapuche-Williche Indigenous community in Chile, Shell has gained a global perspective on Indigenous law. And her women’s, gender, and sexuality classes have helped her envision a better future for how Indigenous people are treated within the U.S. legal system, she says.

This summer, the 2024 Udall Scholars will gather in Tucson, Arizona, for an orientation and start building a network, “which is really important in this type of work,” Shell says. “You have to make those, in a sense, kinship connections professionally to support one another.”

Reflecting on the opportunity, Shell credits the Native American and Indigenous Studies Department, the Native American Program, led by Adria Brown, and her peers and family for “always pushing and supporting” her.

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do here at Dartmouth without their support.”

Named for former U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, D-Arizona, and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the Udall Foundation honors the brothers’ legacies of distinguished national leadership in environmental and Native American policy.

For information about how to apply for the Udall and other programs, contact Dartmouth’s Fellowship Advising Office.