The Truman Scholarship Foundation selected two MSU students as Truman Scholars this year, the first students from the university to be chosen since 2003. Alex Paterson and Cara Thuringer were selected through the rigorous application process at both the university and national level.
The Truman Scholarship was founded in 1975 as a living memorial to the 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman. According to the foundation’s website, John W. Snyder, Truman’s Secretary of State and Missouri Senator Stuart Symington worked to create the Truman Scholarship Foundation through an Act of Congress. The first scholarships were awarded in the 1977-1978 academic year and Truman Scholars have been selected from around the country annually ever since. For 2014, 59 students from a variety of institutions have been awarded the scholarship.
While incredibly competitive, Paterson said the application process was made easier both by MSU and the nature of his fellow applicants. During the regional interviewing process in which national finalists underwent intensive questioning about their academic past and future plans, he described the students as inviting, despite the competitive nature. He said of the interview day in Seattle, “Everyone was really friendly and encouraging.”
Thuringer noted a similarly inclusive group of finalists at her interviewing session in Minneapolis. She spoke of the bond she built with her fellow finalists, saying, “The people I interviewed with in Minneapolis are probably going to continue to be some of my closest friends.”
Receiving the news that he had become a Truman Scholar was life-changing for Paterson. “I was awestruck,” he said, “The Truman Scholarship is going to change my career and academic path for the rest of my life.”
Paterson, a student in the Economics department with a minor in mathematics, said that his success in becoming a Truman Scholar would not have been possible without the help of Ilse-Mari Lee, Dean of the Honors College, and the head of the economics department, Wendy Stock.
Thuringer, a senior double majoring in environmental studies and photography, has a unique path ahead of her now that she has been selected as a Truman Scholar. Soon after learning that she had received the Truman Scholarship, Thuringer also learned that the Boren Foundation will be funding her to study abroad in Ghana for a year.
While Paterson has a set plan for after graduation, Thuringer wants to let her experience studying abroad mold her future. She said “I think going to Ghana for a year is going to change the things I want to work on specifically, but I know that I want to continue to work on climate change.”
Paterson said recipients of the scholarship receive benefits ranging from priority graduate school admission, networking opportunities, as well as $30,000 to use for paying graduate school tuition. The scholarship has opened up the future for Paterson immensely, who said “I can go to graduate school now.”
The network that exists among Truman Scholars is important according to Paterson. “First and foremost, the Truman Scholarship is a network of people who are dedicated to public service,” he said. While the perks of priority admission and scholarship funding are great, Paterson recognizes the most important aspect that the foundation offers. “Above anything else … It’s a family,” he said.
After finishing with academia, Paterson wants to dedicate his life to ensuring equal rights to LGBT people across the globe. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual or trans. Together we can fight for a better community.”
On a broader spectrum Paterson addressed all students who are working towards scholarships or other academic achievements. “Learn how to tell your story. You’re the only one stopping you. Go big,” he said.
Paterson, a Salt Lake City native, plans to travel to Washington D.C after graduating to attend George Washington University. There, he plans work towards earning a Masters of Public Policy.
While the future has many possibilities for Thuringer, she wants to work around the world on issues of climate change and building communities resilient to the effects of a changing global climate.