April 18, 2014

University receives four Truman scholarships

Yusef al-Jarani, Ava Benezra, Andrea Haidar, and Erin Simpson, four third-year students pursuing different career paths but unified by their interest in public service, were awarded Truman scholarships on Wednesday. Only two other schools in the past 15 years have seen all four of their nominees receive the award.

The Truman scholarship is a prestigious academic scholarship for students interested in government or public service work. Recipients receive up to $30,000 to fund graduate education in public service. Fifty-nine students received the award this year. Scholars are nominated by their universities but are selected to represent the state they are originally from.

For each of the UChicago winners, the award carries a unique significance. For Haidar, who is interested in direct social service, the scholarship meant a validation of the relationships she has built working with community groups such as Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE). “It’s meant to me that the relationships of my life, the experiences I’ve gone out of my way to have, did come together in a way that someone else recognized as worthy of investing in, and that really meant a lot to me,” she said.

Al-Jarani, on the other hand, is interested in issues of economic growth and development in an international context and hopes to use his scholarship to allow him to pursue that field. “As of right now I would like to go to the Middle East and northern Africa. As a region it has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world,” he said. “If I was to help alleviate some of that youth unemployment, I think the region can be a lot more peaceful.”

Benezra has been involved in social activism on campus, most visibly as one of the leaders of the Coalition for Equitable Policing, which seeks to end what it sees as discriminatory practices employed by the UCPD. “I come from an organizing background and I highlighted that at every step of my application, so I think it was exciting for me to have that work that is sometimes seen as counterculture or just not mainstream be recognized by what is kind of a mainstream body as well-appreciated and admirable social change work,” she said.

Simpson hopes to impact the community from a policy perspective. She is on the executive board of the Institute of Politics (IOP) and said the IOP helped her through the application process. Simpson also said she was excited to represent her home state. “It’s such a huge honor; it means so much for me, my family,” she said. “I have a really big family; I’m from rural northern Wisconsin, so it’s really cool for me to represent my state and my family and the University in this community of people.”

Applicants for the scholarship must be interested in public service, but Benezra pointed out that the four winners from UChicago all have taken distinct approaches to the field. “We’re all so different; we’re all interested in very different issues and all see very different ways of pursuing social change, but we’re all really committed so it’s just really exciting to be going forward in this together,” she said.