The USSYP scholarship program put many ND students on the path to local, state and national leadership roles

In this week's column, Eriksmoen writes about his involvement in the United States Senate Youth Program.

Curt Eriksmoen online column signature
Photo by Michael Vosburg, Forum Photo Editor. Artwork by Troy Becker.

FARGO — What do all of these governmental leaders share in common: Karl Rove, Pete Buttigieg, Chris Christie, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner and Mack McLarty? They, and many other governmental leaders, had been selected as United States Senate Youth Program winners while they were in high school. Among them were 122 recipients/winners/delegates from North Dakota. (See list below.)

The USSYP is an annual scholarship competition, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Senate and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, which awards two $10,000 scholarships to each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense’s overseas educational facilities.

The winners also receive a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., where they attend meetings and briefings with U.S. senators, members of the House of Representatives, congressional staff, the president, a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, leaders of cabinet agencies, an ambassador to the U.S., and members of the media.

The aim of the USSYP is “discovering, equipping, and inspiring the next generation of local, state, and national leaders.” It began in 1962, when Sens. Tom Kuchel, Mike Mansfield, Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey introduced Senate Resolution 324. The Senate passed SR 324 on May 17, 1962, and has continued its sponsorship of the USSYP by unanimous action each year through the Senate Rules Committee.

When I was hired by the Department of Public Instruction in 1988, I was named director of North Dakota’s USSYP and found it one of the most worthwhile programs in my portfolio.


Each year, the directors of the Bismarck field offices of the two U.S. senators and the U.S. congressman would spend a day in my office going through the applications that students submitted, and the directors then selected the two state delegates. The directors focused on students who held leadership positions in student government, civic and/or educational organizations. Those students who participated in other civic activities outside of the school often propelled them to be finalists.

This process worked so well that on numerous occasions, Rita Almon, program director at the Hearst Foundation, called me on the phone to ask how we selected such outstanding delegates. She said that the North Dakota representatives often ended up in leadership positions during the week they were in Washington.

In a phone discussion with Almon in August of 1998, she informed me that when the North Dakota delegates were to travel to Washington on Feb. 26, 1999, I would fly with them. When in D.C., I and my counterpart, Mary Fortney from Indiana, would meet with President Bill Clinton in the White House to explain the USSYP to him.

When the date of my departure drew near, I was uncertain what my role would be. On Dec. 19, 1998, Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The articles of impeachment were submitted to the U.S. Senate on Jan. 7, 1999, and, after a trial, Clinton was acquitted of both counts on Feb.12.

Everything now appeared clear to proceed with my scheduled visit, but when I arrived at the White House with Fortney, the president had been called back to the Senate. His wife, Hillary, agreed to meet with us and favorably pass the information back to her husband. I assume the president liked what he heard about the program and passed his recommendation on to the Senate and the senators again reauthorized the USSYP program.

I witnessed the active participation that the student delegates had with U.S. senators and congressmen, ambassadors, a Supreme Court justice, cabinet members, and many other national government officials. I was confident that the experience the students had received would encourage them to get involved in leadership positions in the future. In 2001, I resigned from DPI to accept a position at North Dakota State University.

To determine the effectiveness of USSYP in North Dakota, I worked with Lynn DeSmet, USSYP deputy director of the Hearst Foundation, in compiling a list of North Dakota delegates from 1963 to the present. From that list, many names jumped out as leaders in the state and outside of North Dakota.

North Dakota delegates to the USSYP

1963: Karen Rossland; (Williston): & Coralee Warner (Wahpeton)
1964: David S. Micklin, (Grand Forks): & Douglas J. Ray (Dickinson)
1965: Douglas Crockett, (Fargo) & John Sims, (Minot)
1966: William A. Gronvold (Rugby) & Alan L Wicks (Valley City)
1967: Donald J. Ganyo (Grafton) & Robert R. Kempf (Bismarck)
1968: Richard F. Paris (Mandan) & Allan Reese Hawkins (Jamestown)
1969: Bradley W. Leben (Devils Lake) & Thomas Dahlstrom (Lisbon)
1970: Duane V. Krivarchka (Bowman) & James M. Zink (Carrington)
1971: Richard S. Leaman (West Fargo) & Janet S. Jonsrud (Keene)
1972: Fredrick L. Witimann (Wheatland) & Steven J. Andrist (Crosby)
1973: Cynthia Lutz (Hettinger) & Richard S. Bateman (Park River)
1974: Pamela J. Brandrud (Fargo) & James R. Hagerty (Grand Forks)
1975: Jane E. Shafer (Fargo) & Aaron A. Backman (Cavalier)
1976: Joan M. McQuade (Bismarck) & Beth Allmaras (New Rockford)
1977: John B. Delebo (Langdon) & Martin M. Cutler (Fort Yates)
1978: Wade A. Dokken (Towner) & Lisa K. Edison (Milnor)
1979: William F. Cleary (Bismarck) & Joel Raydon Workin (Walcott)
1980: Mona Jean Christenson (Fargo) & Jay Randolph Lindgren (West Fargo)
1981: Joel Thomas Aslakson (Grafton) & Todd Julius Strand (Regent)
1982: RaeDeen Heupel (Bowman) & Thomas Allen Mattern (Bismarck)
1983: Thomas M. Graner (Garrison) & Heidi S. Nelson (West Fargo)
1984: Karen H. Crane (Oakes) & Thomas H. Schnelt (Dickinson)
1985: Justin W. Gullekson (Grand Forks) & Kent F. Knutson (Oakes)
1986: Randall John Gaebe (New Salem) & S. Adit Husain (Grand Forks)
1987: Elizabeth Hughes (Williston) & James Klava (Washburn)
1988: Philip Bender (Fargo) & Winifred Smith (New Salem)
1989: Abraham Christopher Penlandi (Grand Forks) & Hoyt Ronald Stastney (Bismarck)
1990: Michael John Eaton (Fargo) & Linda Marie Wolfgram (Niagara)
1991: Paula Dean Kranz (Bismarck) & Julia Carol Niemeier (Buxton)
1992: Emily Catherine Lambourn (Amidon) & Cheri Ruth Quanbeck (Fargo)
1993: Jason James Henderson (Dickey) & Adam Craig Schumacher (Minot)
1994: Emily Marie Lindell (Fargo) & Jesse Michael Torgerson (Minot)
1995: Gregory Michael Gramza (Bismarck) & Alleen Millicent Richmond (Grand Forks)
1996: Jessica Ann Bowen (Grand Forks) & Mark Pierce Hanson (Fargo)
1997: Kimberly Marie Hehn (Milnor) Derek Michael Shannon (Minot)
1998: Megan Ann Healy (Rugby) & Laura Leigh Owen (Oriska)
1999: Christopher Lawrence Dopson (Bismarck) & Jacob Tyler Rodenbiker (Fargo)
2000: Mitchel Todd Keller (Halliday) & Sarala Vidya Nagala (Oakes)
2001: Nathan David Axvig (Rugby) & Matthew William Petty (Fargo)
2002: Jessica Anne Lichter (Grand Forks) & Scot Michael Miller (Fargo)
2003: Jennifer Lyn Lykken (Grand Forks) & Autumn Schmid (Cavalier)
2004: Joshua W. Enger (Marion) & Laura Phillipe Larson (Fargo)
2005: Anne T. Krapu (Valley City) & Justin G. Schulz (Davenport)
2006: Joelle Johnson (Bismarck) & Rachel Lynn Overboe (Kindred)
2007: Molly Spaeth (Fargo) & Michael Traynor (Fargo)
2008: Matthew Becker (Bismarck) & Devany Schulz (Davenport)
2009: Daniel Baldwin (Hope) & William Bergstrom (Devils Lake)
2010: John J. Mitzel (Fargo) & Adam J. Swigost (Bismarck)
2011: Robert Lauf III (Mayville) & Cory Pletan (Dickinson)
2012: Taylor Oster (Bismarck) & Aaron Podoll (Fargo)
2013: Daniel Wassim (Bismarck) & Aaron Weber (Wishek)
2014: Bethany Berntson (Valley City) & Tyler Toepke-Floyd (Wishek)
2015: Andie Chandler (Grand Forks) & Casondra Rutschke (Zeeland)
2016: Sara Hatlewick (Jamestown) & Alexis Vannett (Fargo)
2017: Alyx Schmitz (Oakes) & Ashlen Wright (West Fargo)
2018: Brandon Prichard (Bismarck) & Erica Solberg (Bismarck)
2019: Preeti Chemiti (Fargo) & Hanna Johnson (Walcott)
2020: Megha Bharadwaj (Bismarck) & Rachel Goven (Turtle Lake)
2021: Athalia Haughton (Bismarck) & Micah Schlittenhardt (Bismarck)
2022: Sydney Ebach (Bismarck) & Emma Kratcha (Hankinson)
2023: Gavin Kratcha (Hankinson) & Will Nelson (Jamestown)


Curt Eriksmoen has been writing a weekly history column for The Forum since 2004. He has taught at both the high school and college level and served as social studies coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for 13 years. He is the author of nine books and is know for inventing barroom team trivia in 1974. Reach him at or calling 701-793-8508.
What To Read Next
Get Local