Recent graduate Thomas Pack receives the Truman Fellowship award.
Q: How did you first learn about the Truman Fellowship?
A: I learned about the Truman Fellowship at the 2003 National Collegiate Honors Conference in Chicago. I was meeting a friend from a university in Alabama at the conference, and she had a couple of friends who were Harry S. Truman Scholars, and they explained the program to me. Also, while I was interning in Washington in 2004, I was invited to a social function with Truman Scholars (again, through a friend), and that cemented my desire to apply.
Q: Did you apply or were you nominated?
A: Both, I would say. I asked the Vice President for Academic Affairs to appoint a Truman Faculty Representative (which we didn't have at the time), and then I worked on my (very long!) application, with help from faculty members, especially Dr. John Ulrich in Political Science. He actually agreed to an independent study class over International Human Rights, which was the subject area I was interested in, in order to prepare for the competition. In the end, however, the Vice President for Academic Affairs and the President had to nominate me for the scholarship.
Q: How many were in the applicant pool?
A: There were 602 applicants the year I applied. That's probably a bit misleading, because each school can only nominate four students, and larger schools tend to have their own internal selection process. A Truman Scholar friend of mine from Harvard University indicated that 15 or so students at that one university competed for their four slots. In the end, 75 scholars were selected.
Q: Would you describe the process you went through to win the Fellowship?
A: I became interested in the scholarship over a long period of time, and then did some research into the requirements of the scholarship, what its aim is, things of that nature. I asked Dr. Anderson to nominate a faculty representative, which he did in May of 2004. Dr. Ulrich and I did the International Human Rights course the Fall of 2004, which culminated in the required policy recommendation. I worked on the application throughout Christmas break and into January, and submitted it in February. I heard the end of February that I was a finalist and had to interview in Dallas the Monday of Spring Break, which was a problem, as I had to rearrange a trip to New York and Washington. It paid off in the end though, as I received a letter from Truman Foundation President Madeleine Albright letting me know I won the scholarship. It was a rigorous process, but it's designed to be, and I learned a lot about myself through it.
Q: What will you be doing during the term of the Fellowship?
A: The Harry S. Truman Scholarship is actually two things -- first, a $30,000 scholarship for graduate school; that includes a week-long event the May after receiving the scholarship in Missouri, and an optional summer program in Washington after graduation. The second part is the Truman Fellows program, which is a year-long stint at a Federal agency or non-profit organization in Washington the year after graduation. I will be working in the Office of Rural Health Policy in the Department of Health and Human Services, working with a variety of national committees and grant programs.
Q: Does everyone who wins the Fellowship do the same activities?
A: No! That's a wonderful part of the "Truman experience" as it's known among scholars, that the program can be tailored to individual interests and graduate school choices. Scholars will be working during the summer and for the rest of their lives in everything from politically-conservative think tanks to gay and lesbian advocacy organizations, from Federal agencies to faith-based relief programs. The money is nice, but the supportive network of scholars and experienced public servants is worth far more than the money. We all want to make a difference, and we can overcome the "how" of that for a while to discuss ways to accomplish that goal.
I think the Truman Scholarship is great for anyone who really wants to make a difference in public service. If you have a goal, a vision for change, seriously think about applying. It stretches across many disciplines as well -- my roommate this summer is in a public policy PhD program, my other roommate is going to law school, I want to get a M.Sc from Oxford, and my coworker at my office is going to medical school. It's your goal that matters, and the scholarship aims to help you get there. The means are left up to you.