U of C scores Truman Scholarship hat trick

By Peter Kauffman

Dean of the College John Boyer announced last week that three U of C students had received Harry S. Truman scholarships this year. The recipients of the $30,000 scholarship—third-years Stephanie Bell, Steven Cohen, and Alethea Lange—were recognized at a ceremony last Monday in the Harper Memorial Building. The University had more Truman Scholars this year than any other institution.

The scholarship, created by Congress in 1975, is a federal award given to college juniors for demonstrated interest in public service and exceptional leadership, according to the foundation. Considered highly prestigious, the scholarship is awarded to only about 50 students annually out of a pool of hundreds.

“Each of our Truman applicants put themselves through a grueling process preparing their applications,” said Susan Art, dean of students in the College, of the students who had to submit an application including a public policy proposal and complete a round of interviews. “Their commitment to their causes carried them through this demanding process.”

The U of C has had two recipients each of the past two years. This is the first time the University has had three recipients in the same year, and the announcement comes as a boost after University students failed to net a single British Marshall or Rhodes scholarship this year, breaking a five-year streak of having at least one student win one of the two prestigious awards.

According to a University press release, Rovana Popoff, senior adviser in the College and member of the Truman Scholarship selection committee, said that “[w]hile each of [the U of C recipients] is pursuing a different career path, what they have in common is a strong feminist sensibility.”

Bell, an anthropology major, wrote her proposal about distributing condoms in Illinois prisons, citing the rise in Chicago’s HIV—infection rates, particularly among black women. While much of Bell’s AIDS-related work and activism has been on an international level, she is concerned with this problem in the U.S., as well: “I believe it’s imperative that people recognize that the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United States is not a phenomenon of the past,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to participate in the Truman internship program and work with a global HIV/AIDS organization the summer after I graduate.”

Cohen, a history major, wrote about the need to ensure that transgender people can change their gender designation on government documents. In particular, he discussed how Tennessee is one of the only states with a law explicitly forbidding transgendered individuals from altering the gender on their birth certificates.

“I feel thrilled to have won a Truman Scholarship,” Cohen said, “and I look forward to spending a week with [the other recipients] in May at Truman Scholarships Leadership Week in Missouri.”

Lange, a political science and English double major, developed a policy addressing the retention of teachers in rural North Dakota. She said she hopes to continue working on school reform at the state or local level.

No procedural changes were made since last year in terms of administrative support for those applying for highly distinguished scholarships, Boyer said.

Art said the method of preparing students for the Truman, Rhodes, and Marshall scholarships—namely drafting and redrafting essays, as well as practicing for interviews—are very similar, and occasionally the University does not have a recipient for each of the scholarships due to the considerable competition involved. Art also noted that the U of C received three Gates Cambridge scholarships this year.

“The College is extremely proud that three of our students won Truman Scholarships, since the Trumans are dedicated to encouraging both advanced scholarship and critical social and political engagement,” Boyer said. “As for the winners themselves, they are terrific students and great representatives of the University of Chicago. I am very proud of them.”