Kendall Hays jumps in mid-air with shovel.

Noble Scholarships Support Student Passionate About Ecology

A student with a passion for agriculture, academia and the environment receives double honors through Noble Foundation scholarships.

By Katie Maupin Miller

Rangeland roots run deep in Kendall Hays.

The Oklahoma State University freshman spent her childhood tagging along with her ecologist parents. She scouted fields with her father, Brian, a rangeland consultant, as he visited with farmers and ranchers. Her mother, Amy, Noble Research Institute's adult education manager, instilled in her the importance of teaching others about the world around them.

Land stewardship isn't merely a family tradition for Hays; it's her passion. And now thanks to the Noble Foundation and a double helping of scholarship support, Kendall Hays will pursue coursework in OSU’s natural resource ecology and management program.

Hays is only confirming her interest in her chosen field, which she views as the foundation for all agriculture. She is specializing in rangelands, or native grasslands, shrublands and forests, which can be intentionally managed with grazing animals to improve the quality of the land through a process known as regenerative ranching.

As a student looking at the finite resources of Earth and an ever-growing population, Hays sees land stewardship and ecological innovation as a way her generation can rise to combat the ecological challenges facing humanity. She also sees it as a spiritual calling, a profession that can draw her closer to God by caring for his creation.

"I think nature is the purest way to see God and all of his glory," Hays says. "To be able to help protect the environment is an amazing calling."

For now, Hays is furthering her education so she can better understand and share with others how to care for the land. She hopes to one day bring her education back to the same rural communities that have shaped her through the years. It’s a goal that made Hays stand out as the top choice for not one but two Noble Foundation scholarships: the Sam Noble Scholarship and the Noble Educational Fund Scholarship.  

Sam Noble's Scholars

The Sam Noble Scholarship was established through a $1.8 million bequest in 1992 from the late Sam Noble, son of founder Lloyd Noble. This gift was earmarked to encourage and enable outstanding young students like Hays in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma to pursue futures in agriculture or technology and to return to help better their rural communities.

Kendall Hays
Kendall Hays received both Noble Foundation scholarships in 2020: the Sam Noble Scholarship and the Noble Educational Fund Scholarship.

According to Stacy Newman, Noble Foundation director of philanthropy, students applying for the Sam Noble Scholarship can pursue agriculture-related degrees at any college or university that offers a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science degree program. They can also pursue technical degrees from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee or Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City. Students must reside in one of 15 southern Oklahoma counties to apply.

The Sam Noble Scholarship considers each student’s abilities and plans for the future rather than financial need. An anonymous committee of agricultural stakeholders living in southern Oklahoma chooses the winners each year. It’s no easy task.

"When reviewing the applicants, we look for interesting individuals who appear to be motivated and have a passion for agriculture. This can be demonstrated through their coursework and extracurricular activities,” says one committee member. "We are looking for the best candidates for the scholarships, period. We are not required to lower our standard to find applicants to fit a quota."

Since the first scholarship payment was made in August 1999, 244 scholarships have been awarded. That’s a total of about $2.4 million that has gone to furthering education in the next generation.

Sam Noble once said, "An education is something no one can take away from you." His namesake scholarship not only offers students, like Hays, opportunities to further their education to give back through their future careers, but it also aligns with his father Lloyd Noble's philanthropic legacy through the Noble Foundation to give back to agriculture and rural communities.

Kendall Hays takes notes at a Envirothon event.
Kendall Hays (bottom right corner) participates in an Oklahoma Envirothon workshop October 26, 2018. Hays helped organize Plainview High School’s first team in the competition.

Noble Education

The Noble Educational Fund was established in 1969. The program provides merit-based scholarships to Noble-entity employees' dependents (including Noble Research Institute and Noble Corporation), encouraging young people to pursue higher education. Up to 10 scholarships are awarded annually, depending on the number of applicants. Currently, winning students are awarded $20,000, paid out directly to the student at up to $5,000 per year.

"The Noble Educational Fund recognizes exemplary students of Noble employees with diverse backgrounds while considering academics, extracurricular involvement, work and volunteer experiences," Newman says.

Like the Sam Noble Scholarship, Noble Educational Fund winners are selected by an anonymous committee of local community leaders. However, the committees for the two scholarships are separate and review applications for their respective scholarships independently of one another.

A Noble Educational Fund committee member explained their assessment of applicants looks at academics as well as leadership roles to evaluate a student’s commitment to taking the initiative and serving others.

"The Noble family and Foundation are about hard-working individuals who pursue a betterment in the community in which they operate,” the committee member says. “The pursuit of knowledge and an unquenchable thirst for being forward-thinkers has allowed Noble to be where it is today. I look closely at how an applicant will represent this in their industry.”

Kendall Hays attends Envirothon workshop.
Oklahoma Envirothon is a team-based, high school competition for students to learn about the environment and the issues facing this and future generations.

Twice Is Nice

Rarely will a student win both Noble Foundation scholarships due to each award's unique selection process, criteria and competitive nature. However, Hays' academic excellence and commitment to the future of agriculture heralded her to the top of each selection committee’s list.

In the last 11 years, Hays is only the second student to achieve such an honor, Newman says. The accomplishment is so rare that many applicants don't realize you can be awarded both scholarships. This was the case with Hays, who didn’t believe she had truly won both scholarships until Newman called asking if she had accepted them yet. Hays was confused because she had accepted one scholarship and thought she had completed the task. When Newman clarified that she had won both, Hays was overjoyed. Together, the scholarships amount to $40,000 of academic assistance, allowing Hays to focus solely on her studies. It’s an opportunity for which she expresses gratitude.

"On top of it being mind-blowing that I was chosen for these honors, the scholarships have made me more relaxed knowing I'm able to go to school, focus on my classes and take the burden off my parents,” Hays says. “I am so thankful to the Noble Foundation.”

While the scholarships may be different, they both serve an essential role in the Noble Foundation's philanthropic mission for a better tomorrow.

"I believe the two scholarships celebrate and complement the Noble family’s philosophy,” Newman says. “The Nobles value education and hard work in the quest of excellence. They also honor the land and continue to always seek to protect, nurture and grow the finite resources we have.”

The Noble family has a deep-rooted belief in educational support. Their scholarship programs recognize students who understand the importance of big goals and aspire to make a difference in the world around them.

“There is a truism in the words of my grandfather Lloyd Noble: Life’s purpose is not found in gaining things for yourself but in giving to others,” says Susan Brown, chairman of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Board. “Individuals often evolve to this understanding. Gaining an education and skills to provide for a future is an essential need. We provide the Noble Foundation scholarships to assist students in achieving such education and essential skills. We hope they use this education and skills to gain experience and a broader viewer of the world. Hopefully, for some, they will find their way back to southern Oklahoma — armed with such perspectives and experience — to become a part of our communities, better them and find ways to give back to those around them.”

Hays has plans for just that.

Giving Back

When asked how she'd like to make an impact in the world, Hays admits it's a tall order for a college freshman. But, she also knows she can make significant changes one person at a time.

Kendall Hays holding a shovel in an 'American Gothic' inspired pose.
Kendall Hays studies natural resource ecology and management, specializing in rangelands, at Oklahoma State University. She hopes to bring her education back to rural communities.

"I think I can be somebody who helps at least one person," Hays reflects, musing that perhaps it will be someone on the street or a fellow student. "I don't know if I can drastically change the world, but I know I can change a person's world."

Hays' future aspirations include furthering her education beyond a bachelor's degree before entering the field for some hands-on ecological experience. Eventually, Hays sees herself in the classroom, inspiring young people to care for the land.

Hays already recognizes the earth-shaking power of teachers. She's had teachers who have pushed her to meet her goals, such as when she wanted to help Plainview High School students learn about the connection between agriculture and the environment.

Hays enlisted the help of one of her previous biology teachers and created the school's first Oklahoma Envirothon team. Her efforts introduced more than 20 students to environmental studies, and her team's effort garnered a placing at their first state competition.

"I'd love to be a teacher for common core students who are like, 'I don't know what to do with my life,'" she says. "I just want to help people and help my generation be more connected to the land."