On March 30, two Amherst students, Bess Hanish ’13 and Khan Shoieb ’13, received the Truman Scholarship, a prestigious award given to “find and recognize college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, the nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education or elsewhere in the public service.” The Truman Scholarship was created in 1975 as a living memorial to the eponymous president and is administered by the Truman Foundation, an indepedent federal executive branch agency led by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. Truman Scholars gain up to $30,000 in financial support for graduate study, as well as leadership training and networking opportunities with other Truman Scholars and alumni.
Applicants must undergo a rigorous and thorough application process, meticulously mapping out their goals for the next 15 years of their life. Candidates are judged on the basis of four criteria: service on campus and in the community, commitment to a career in public service, communication skills and academic talent that would assure acceptance to a top-tier graduate school. Potential applicants must first be nominated by their alma mater institution before competing against hundreds of other applicants from around the country. From these, the Foundation chooses approximately 200 finalists, who are interviewed by panels of judges in their home regions. In the end, only 50-75 applicants receive the scholarship. Notable past recipients include Amherst alum and U.S. Senator Chris Coons ’85.
Hanish hopes to use the award to attend Yale Law School and would one day like to work as legal counsel for the United Nations. Hanish applied for the scholarship after meeting current Truman Scholars and Finalists through the TRIALS program, a summer study program for students from underrepresented backgrounds interested in attending first-rate law schools. “I met these people, two Scholars and one Finalist, and they told me that it was a great program for people interested in going into law and public service, and I thought that sounded like something I was into. When I found out how competitive this program was, I was a bit discouraged, but, as you can see, I persisted and here I am,” said Hanish.
Shoieb applied for the award because he saw it as a way for him to help change domestic policy in the United States. Shoieb’s views the Scholarship as an important step on the road to one day leading the Domestic Policy Council in the White House. “The Truman was always a long shot, but I applied for it because I thought it would bring me one step closer to placing myself in a position to affect the kind of change I want to see in our domestic policy. Denise [Gagnon] and Suzanne [Spencer] in the Fellowships Office were beyond helpful from the very first stages of what is a long and exhausting process, helping me to select recommenders, edit my application, and prepare me for the interview.”
Both Hanish and Shoieb encouraged other students interested in law and public policy to apply for the scholarship. “People shouldn’t exclude themselves because they don’t think they have a chance of winning. I think you have to try and let other decide if you’re the right fit,” said Hanish. “My tips would be that students work with the fellowship office and let them guide you through the process and, most importantly, to be passionate about your issues — they can tell if you’re just saying something without really meaning it.”
Shoieb found the application process to be a rewarding experience by itself. “I found the most rewarding aspect of the process to be the application’s insistence on having you focus your goals and concisely articulate your unique contribution to public service. It would have been a valuable experience to have undergone, with or without the scholarship.”