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The South Dakotan

“Wyatt started in the Medical Lab Science program but

found that Health Sciences was more interesting to him than

clinical lab work would be,” Ticknor explained. “When we first

discussed a research pathway, I don’t think he was very sure

about the idea, but he tried it and found that it really was what

he had been searching for.”

“I had this big awakening,” said Pickner, who earned a

B.A. in American Indian studies and a B.S. in health sciences.

“I realized I didn’t have to be in a clinical research setting to

make a difference. I could focus on understanding cellular

and molecular mechanisms that underlie a disease or disease

process instead.”

His first involvement in research was in the summer between

his sophomore and junior years, via the Sanford Summer

Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). SURE exposed

Pickner to a different side of research—one that got him

involved in biomedical research and epidemiology. He also

completed a public health internship with RISE-UP, a program

of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and a partner with USD’s

Center for Disabilities.

Jill Weimer, Ph.D., a former professor of Pickner’s and

current director of the Children’s Health Research Center at

Sanford Research, said, “Rather than going into college with his

mind made up on what he wanted to do, Wyatt made sure to

participate in as many research and educational opportunities as

came his way to help him decide on what he wanted to do career

wise. It helped Wyatt narrow down his true passion of public

health research.”

“When Wyatt found research, his personality seemed to

grow bigger and better,” added Kay Rasmussen, assistant

professor of medical laboratory science. “He took on additional

responsibilities and began to fully immerse his efforts into the

public health arena. It was truly a transformation in my opinion.

Wyatt probably didn’t realize his skills at organizing events until

put into the position of doing them but he is very good at it.”

Perhaps equally as influential as all his research was

Tiospaye, USD’s Native student organization, for which

Pickner served as president for two years. Tiospaye, which

means “extended family,” encourages Native and non-Native

students to get involved in activities and promotes Native life

on campus. During Pickner’s tenure, the modest events held

by Tiospaye evolved into larger events, eventually developing

into USD’s Native Student Weekend. Pickner was a key player

in the evolution of that weekend that brings hundreds of

Native students, Native alumni and tribal members to campus

each spring.

Tiospaye was a springboard that helped Pickner realize he

could be a leader, a voice for others on a large scale. “I don’t

know if I would have had as

much inspiration to do that

type of thing if not for my

involvement in it,” he revealed.

“I was proactive in finding

opportunities, which really

enhanced my time at USD.”

Even outside the scope of Tiospaye, Pickner devoted much

time supporting the growing movement of Native student

activities at the university. The Wawokiya mentoring program,

a function of USD’s TRIO office, is an educational outreach

program designed to support students from disadvantaged

backgrounds. His first year at USD, Pickner was a mentee in it;

then, as a mentor for the next four years, he helped incoming

freshman and transfer student acquaint themselves with campus

and transition into college life.

“My participation in the Wawokiya mentoring program was a

very meaningful experience,” he mused. “I had the opportunity

Pickner at Sanford Research

Pickner discusses a project with Susan Puumala, Ph.D.

and Jill Weimer, Ph.D., two of his mentors