I recently had the pleasure of conducting interviews (via Zoom) for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation which identifies young people at an important inflection point in their development—when they are college juniors—and recognizes and rewards their commitments to devote themselves to public service.
The selection criteria for the Truman Scholarship is the likelihood of being a change agent, a commitment to public service as a career, ability to do well at their proposed graduate or professional school, and an informed concern for community. Each interview was about twenty minutes. We had to choose one scholarship winner per State, although for special cases we could suggest a close second as an “at large” candidate to win.
Interestingly, winning candidates are informed in a rather unique manner. University Presidents- or in the case of the service academies, the Superintendents – are alerted in advance so they can own the experience of having a Truman Scholar and surprise them in creative ways.
My judging panel was comprised of seven people, all of whom but me were Truman Scholars. They were generally younger than me, and of course earlier in their careers. In additional to my panel, Regional Review Panels were conducted across the United States to ensure fairness, opportunity, and consistency for all candidates.
Dr. Terry Babcock-Lumish, the Executive Secretary of the Truman Scholarship Foundation, taught Economics at West Point and asked me to join the panel. We interviewed three students from West Virginia (West Virginia University, Marshall University, Shepherd University) and four from Maryland (two campuses of Maryland University and the Air Force Academy) in the morning. In the afternoon we interviewed six students from Ohio (University of Pittsburgh, the Air Force Academy, Youngstown State University, University of Cincinnati, American University, and Denison University). Every student had a near perfect to perfect grade average, significant on campus leadership role, and some leadership role in a service organization. They each had a proposal for their public service project and a vision for their career in public service.
After all the interviews were completed, we deliberated on the selection. The results were rather unanimous. We chose one winner per State and made suggestions about an at large winner.
62 dedicated leaders were selected as Truman Scholars from 773 applicants attending 316 different colleges and universities.
The newest class reflects a diversity of public service interests, backgrounds, geography, and schools. Approximately forty percent are at public colleges and universities (43.5%). Over one-third go to private research universities (35.5%). The remainder attend liberal arts colleges (19.4%) and service academies (1.6%). Three schools celebrate their first-ever Truman Scholar in 2020: Berklee College of Music, Emmanuel College, and Southern Connecticut State University.
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