Cheers resonated from her apartment as she hurried downstairs — fingers fumbling through her contacts to call her mom with tears threatening to well up — after she opened an email titled, “Congratulations.”
Junior Natalie Coté, or Nat as some people know her as, received the 2019 Robert C. Bohlmann, CEM, Scholarship for Service in Emergency Management after nearly 30 hours of work gathering at least 12 different documents for her application. The scholarship is awarded to four students studying emergency and disaster management worldwide. Coté was the only undergraduate to receive it this year.
“I work all year around to try to afford not only college but also the life I want to have after,” Coté said. “The vast majority of that (scholarship money) is going straight to another account for grad school, so I can pursue that dream too. … It’s a big honor.”
Coté’s EDM adviser John Carr was proud she earned such a prestigious and competitive scholarship. He didn’t know the exact number of applicants for the international scholarship, but he said in the United States alone, there are around 60,000-70,000 EDM-based majors that would be able to apply.
“She’s incredibly deserving,” Carr said. “Natalie is in the top 1% as far as the capacity of EDM students in general, comparing her to other graduates at other programs across the nation.”
Something that helped Coté stand out from other applicants was the emergency plan she’d created for the Lawrence Public Library in her hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. It combined her EDM major with her minor in public history and museum studies by designing ways to conserve the library’s documents and artifacts in the event of an emergency.
“It’s, first of all, amazing that someone who’s an undergraduate did that kind of work for a place like Lawrence,” Coté’s public history adviser Elyssa Ford said. “It was also this unique way to bring together the two areas that she studies and is interested in.”
Coté personally reached out to the Lawrence Public Library to set up the internship to fulfill an EDM requirement in December 2018. She presented her own resources, subject matter and expertise. She was happy the library liked her ideas.
The plan ended up being a 50-page document she finished in July.
“They’re a collection institution … so that was an opportunity for me to meet that intersection of writing an emergency plan but doing it for a library,” Coté said. “Obviously you want to protect the people, but you have to take into consideration books and various artifacts … They didn’t have anything previously. It gave me an opportunity to start from scratch and create something for them that could be useful for the future.”
Coté is in the process of applying for a grant from the University to bring people from a restoration company in to talk to students in both EDM and public history.
“That’s something that she came up with, entirely on her own, that she wanted to do and bring in purposefully to bring those groups together,” Ford said.
To fulfill another EDM requirement, Coté participated in the Missouri Hope exercise last year. There, she learned she isn’t completely comfortable out on the field.
“It cued me into the fact that I’m more of a behind-the-scenes planning kind of person than I am a tactical person, which I’ve never necessarily would have known if I hadn’t done that exercise,” Coté said, her fingers drumming on the table.
She still wanted to be involved, so she applied for a couple of staff positions for Missouri Hope over the summer. She was hired as the administration finance officer and then the deputy plans officer of logistics. She’ll be focused on analyzing how much the exercise is worth and making sure all participants have the needed materials when the event takes place Oct. 4-6.
“This is an upcoming role for Natalie,” Carr said. “She is certainly an advanced student and advanced member of our staff. … The goal of this is to get her familiar with the functions so she can be in charge in the future years. Our hope is for the next year, Natalie can step into the full planning role.”
When she was working on her internship with the Lawrence Public Library, Coté was simultaneously completing an internship with the University Archives to move forward with her public history minor. Doing so early in her time at college helped her solidify her career goals.
“I’ve always loved museums,” Coté said, her head bobbing side to side slightly as she bounced in her seat. “You have this preservation, conservation of cultural heritage and stuff, which is something I’ve developed a passion for since I’ve been here. I’ve learned I can mold the two things I’ve been studying into a future career path.”
Coté applied to work on campus as a museum attendant, an opportunity only open to public history minors. Ford thought she was a strong candidate for the position because she’d already completed some of her coursework and internships.
There are six different exhibit spaces across campus: the Geoscience and Life Sciences Museums in the Garrett-Strong Science Building, the Agriculture Museum in the Valk Center, the Computing Museum in the B. D. Owens Library, the Broadcasting Museum in Wells Hall and the Art Gallery in the Olive DeLuce Fine Arts Building.
Coté spends two hours in each exhibit per week — briskly typing on her school laptop with her leg shaking beneath the small desk in a different museum each day. She works in two spaces on Tuesday. She meets with Ford each week to update her on her progress and discuss the projects to pursue next.
“I have yet to find something I don’t want to do,” Coté said. “There’s so many different things. I might be building a dinosaur. I might completely reorganize the computer exhibit. For the art gallery, I can make promotional flyers and use social media. There’s never a boring day. … It’s a lot of detail-oriented stuff, but that’s exactly the world I’d like to inhabit.”
When Coté isn’t working on her coursework, she’s often focused on her work for the Speaking Bearcats speech and debate team. She was a three-time state champion, three-time national qualifier in high school, so she knew she was good at it. She sought scholarship opportunities for competing as soon as she found out Northwest had a forensics team.
“It is a nice thing to be compensated for what ends up being hundreds of hours over the course of the semester,” Coté said. “That’s kind of my respite from school because if I don’t want to do homework, I’ll do that, because it makes me happy.”
As she walks across campus from class to class, she whispers quickly to herself, occasionally glancing at her phone and ensuring she’s on track, to utilize every spare second in her day toward mastering her speeches.
This year, she is competing in five different speech events which total up to 50 minutes of content she must have memorized and ready to compete when she goes to her first tournament Oct. 19. Throughout the season, she’ll need to rewrite, revise and rememorize the speeches over and over again.
She writes whenever she can and enjoys it, so she established a writing minor this semester.
Coté spends any other free time at the library working on assignments. With no classes on Thursdays, she spends about 15 hours there starting at 8 a.m. She’ll often be working ahead for the week to come because it’s a habit she needs to have during the speech and debate competition season.
“One of the things that is a little bit tricky about doing speech and debate is … there’s not really an opportunity to do homework at tournaments,” Coté said. “It never happens. You tell yourself you’re gonna do homework at night, but after 10 hours or so of competition, that’s a no go. So I’ve learned over the last couple years that it’s important to stay rigorous and get stuff done a week or two early so I’m not floundering when tournaments come around.”
Coté also likes to keep her school life separate from her home life. She reserves the time at home to relax and spend time with her roommates. Thus, her days at the University can get pretty hectic when trying to get everything done before she heads back to her apartment.
“I try to remember to pack lunches so I don’t forget to eat,” Coté said, the words “Hot Pocket”’ scrawled across her hand in black pen, reminding her not to forget her lunch from the staff lounge after her shift in the Geoscience Museum. “Whenever I get the chance to hole myself in the library for a couple hours and complete assignments, I try to do that.”
Coté is also a student in the honors program, which Ford became director of last spring. She said Coté is the perfect example of an honors student.
“I don’t think it is possible for someone to be more prepared than she is,” Ford said. “This is my ninth year at Northwest and I taught at a number of different places before I came here. She is definitely the most prepared student that I’ve ever had. … It’s impressive that she’s able to keep track of everything that she has to do.”
Carr expressed similar thoughts about her work ethic. As her primary adviser, he focuses on helping her pursue any and all endeavors she wants. He’s seen her accelerate past the things she learns in class, so he guides her when she goes beyond what was discussed in her courses.
“She definitely keeps me on my toes … so she can get the absolute most out of those classes,” Carr said. “She’s doing work as a junior in college that some folks take 10-15 years to get up to that level of mastery. Natalie is already ready for those full-time jobs, and she isn’t even done with college yet.”