y his own admission, as a high
schooler, Wyatt Pickner was
uncertain of his life’s direction.
What he did know, though, is that he wanted to make a
difference in the way Native Americans were able to access
As a whole, Native Americans face significant health
problems such as diabetes, alcoholism and high infant mortality
rates. Their struggle for quality health care accessibility has been
marked by decades of neglect and scarce resources. Tensions
between Native traditions and modern medicine have resulted in
compromised Native American health nationwide.
It’s a circumstance Pickner was not unfamiliar with. He’s an
enrolled member of the Hunkpati Dakota/Crow Creek Sioux
Tribe, located in central South Dakota along the northern and
eastern shores of the Missouri River. He was raised in Sioux
Falls, South Dakota, among many immediate and extended
family members—one of whom is a practicing doctor of internal
medicine, Lorenzo Stars, M.D., a 1984 graduate of the USD
Sanford School of Medicine. His mother, a Sanford intensive
care employee for more than 20 years, certainly was a powerful
influence for him as well.
“Lorenzo was a big role model for me,” said Pickner of his
uncle. “Growing up, I saw how people went to him for help. He
was always there for others, and he knows how to communicate
with audiences. I admired that quality in him.”
Upon graduation from Lincoln High School in 2008, Pickner
enrolled at the University of South Dakota. The hands-on
involvement he discovered there would turn out to be the
catalyst that would help set him on the path of medical research.
Pieces began to fit together for Pickner as he found himself
more and more immersed in the culture USD offered—the
opportunities to engage in leadership, research and friendship.
But no one, including Pickner, knew exactly how his life
Although he hadn’t declared a major upon setting foot on
USD’s campus as a freshman, it didn’t take him long to forge his
way into health sciences. His academic advisor for about a year
and a half, Audrey Ticknor, helped guide Pickner to what he
Wyatt Pickner ’14 finds research pathway at USD
By Kim Lee