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Two ND juniors awarded Truman Scholarship

CARLY LANDON | Friday, April 9, 2010

Notre Dame juniors Elizabeth Simpson and Puja Parikh were awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship, an award given to college juniors with plans to attend graduate school who then work to make a difference through public service, according to Roberta Jordan, assistant director of national fellowships at the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement.

 “A lot of people don’t know about the Truman Scholars. But it’s the domestic equivalent of the Rhoades,” Parikh said. “There are obviously differences between the two but it is a national scholarship for graduate school.”

The application process started in November for Notre Dame students when the Center for Scholarly Engagement contacted eligible applicants. 

“We begin the process in mid-fall when we reach out to juniors, and we have them turn in an application identical to the Truman scholarship.  We have a selection committee which accesses all the students’ applications and decide who will want to nominate,” Jordan said. “This year we had eight applicants, of whom we nominated four.  Two of those four were invited to regional interviews with the Truman Scholarship Foundation.

Included in the application were three essays, two letters of recommendation from professors and an interview.

“The Truman scholarship is the most extensive scholarship application that I’m aware of, even more so than the Rhoades and the Marshall and the Fulbright applications,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of components to it but they are broken down to really help the student access what they want to do in the future.”

Simpson said she used the application process to examine what type of civil service she was passionate about and use that discovery to plan her future goals.

“It was unique for me because I started the application when I was studying abroad in Chile. I had a little more time on my hands to just reflect and recognize the issues most important to me and to really discern that I had a passion for rural development particular within the U.S.,” Simpson said.

“I’m from Wyoming and the application challenged us to write about any policy that we feel strongly about,” Simpson said. “I recognized that I’ve always had a concern and passion for development and poverty alleviation.  I realized I feel called to work with poverty alleviation within the rural United States.”

Parikh, on the other hand, said she realized last minute that the scholarship applied to all graduate programs, whether it be medical school, law school or other graduate programs.

“I looked at the information about it, and thought this was only for grad school and I want to go to law school,” she said. “Three days before the application was due, Roberta sent me an e-mail asking me if I was going to do it, and I said I wasn’t because I want to go to law school. She said it was for law school too so I went in and talked to her.”

In three days, Parikh was able to write the essays, get recommendations and finish the application just in time for the due date.

“I think one of the only reasons I was selected was the interview because my application was not the strongest it could be,” she said. “After performing well in the interview and being selected, I went in and got some constructive criticism and had to rewrite three of my essays.”

Once the students are nominated, Jordan and other University employees really worked to help fine tune the students’ applications.

“We have mock interviews and we work really hard to give them an experience that will replicate what they are about to face at their regional interviews,” Jordan said. “We play devils advocate, and really push them on being able to respond to the questions about their applications.

Both Simpson and Parikh said they look forward to their senior years, knowing that the possibilities available in their future have just opened up.

“Because of the prestige of this scholarship, I hope that it will open some opportunities they might not have considered as far as graduate programs they are looking at,” Jordan said. “And for them, I’m sure it is nice to know that they already have $30,000 dollars in their pockets to pay for that graduate school.”

Parikh said she plans to apply to law school next year and become a public health lawyer.
“I knew I wanted to do public health law, and I knew I was a really good public speaker so I focused my whole application on being an application for different aspects of health law reform,” Parikh said. “I was really excited when I found out, and I had visions of top law schools floating through my head because I felt like I really could do it.”

Simpson looks forward to the opportunity to study rural development.

“I never imagined that leaving the state of Wyoming and coming to [Notre Dame] that I would desire to study rural development. This application was the catalyst to help me do that, and has helped me realize there are resources available to help me do that,” Simpson said.

“It is somewhat of a relief to know I have already established a certain amount of funding for graduate school so I can head in that direction,” Simpson said. “I am also excited for the internship that the Truman Foundation will coordinate for the summer after senior year. I want to intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Notre Dame has not had a Truman Scholar in nine years, and this is the first time in the history of Notre Dame that two students have received the award in the same year.

“We are thrilled to have two scholars in one year.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had even one — our last one was in 2001 — so we are especially proud to have had such great success this year,” Jordan said.