A scholarship of presidential proportions: Two Macalester students awarded Truman Scholarships for 2013

“I was incredibly excited and shocked,” was how Andrew Keefe ’13 described his response to the recent news that he was awarded a 2013 Truman Scholarship. Zachary Avre ’14, the other recipient from Macalester, had a similar experience: “I mostly just felt incredibly grateful and fortunate.”

Keefe and Avre were both recently selected as 2013 Truman Scholars. The mission of the Truman Scholarship Foundation is to annually recognize college juniors who demonstrate exceptional leadership potential and commitment to making a difference through careers in public service. (Keefe is graduating a year early, and is technically in his third year of college, which is why he was eligible for the scholarship.)

This year, there were 629 applicants from 293 colleges and universities for 62 scholarships. Each scholarship awards $30,000 for students to further their education in government, education, the nonprofit sector or the public interest and advocacy sector to improve conditions in public issues that interest the recipients.

Applicants must submit a policy proposal as the focus of their application and answer questions about their future plans and commitments. If students are chosen as finalists, they are interviewed by a selection panel. This year the Committee selected 199 finalists from 136 colleges and universities. The finalists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota were interviewed March 5 at St. Catherine’s University and were notified of their acceptance in early April.

Keefe’s proposal was that all standardized tests related to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) should be available to students in the first language that they speak at home.

“Study after study has shown that kids perform better on tests that are written in their first language, and we can infer that if kids are taking the tests they need in order to graduate in their first language, we are going to have higher graduation rates among marginalized communities,” Keefe said. “The larger goal is to close the achievement gap, and to allow kids to test in their first language in math and science, in the language they would test best in. It would be a cheap way and ethically honest way to close the achievement gap.”

Avre’s proposal focused on foreclosure prevention and mitigation within US cities in direct response to the foreclosure crisis.

“I had a geographically-based approach. There are current programs the Obama administration has developed to prevent and mitigate the losses from foreclosures, but most of them are very specific to individual homeowners and there is no spatial aspect to it,” Avre said. “Like in the Twin Cities, whether it’s Frogtown or North Minneapolis, there are concentrations of foreclosures in certain communities. This kind of haphazard helping of one homeowner at a time is not going to solve that issue. I proposed, instead, to take a kind of neighborhood-wide approach to tackle this issue as a community.”

Part of the scholarship involves a Truman Scholars Leadership Week in Missouri running May 28 through June 2. The week will provide an opportunity for all the scholars to meet each other, attend policy writing workshops and network with experts in the field.

“I am excited to meet the fellow scholars, because it was incredibly inspiring to meet the other finalists I interviewed with,” Avre said. “I am always amazed when I meet other people who are really engaged in their communities and really have hope in the future and believe that they can be part of enacting change.”

Another perk of the scholarship is a summer program after senior year in Washington D.C., which provides the scholars with internships, graduate level seminars and a summer of community building. In the fall, the scholars apply to the Truman Scholar Summer Institute to apply to institutes or agencies they want to work with.

The applicants also must outline their plans for graduate school.

“I proposed getting a dual masters in planning and public policy from University of Southern California. The way I view it, it’s important to get the urban planning degree to get an idea of how cities function at the ground level but then also a policy degree to address those issues on a broader level—getting a framework, but also the tools to do something about it at a national level,” Avre said.

Keefe has his sights set on a doctoral program at the Stanford School of Education. The program, titled Race, Inequality and Language in Education “looks at how to deal with multilingualism on a micro and macro level in the education system,” Keefe said. “So [the question is] what’s the best way for teachers to approach classes that have speakers from a dozen different languages, and how do we draft policy that is geared towards closing the achievement gap but also ethically responsible and isn’t sociolinguistically biased towards certain speech communities?”

Keefe and Avre reflected on the experience of applying for and eventually winning the scholarship.

“It feels really good to have a plan. I feel reassured knowing this is the path I have sketched out and at least for the next year or two I know what I am doing, and it’s very easy to enjoy the present knowing there is some structure to what I am doing in the future,” Keefe said.

“It was a very helpful process regardless of whether I got the scholarship … to think about what I want to get out of the next five to 10 years of my life,” Avre said. “It was a good chance to reflect on what issues I am passionate about, why I want to be a public servant and how I want to see myself growing and developing as a leader.”

Keefe and Avre both stressed the importance of outside help during this process, and valued the support from the Macalester community, especially Ann Minnick of Academic Programs and Lesley Lavery, a Truman Scholar herself, of the Political Science department.

As an eventual goal Keefe hopes to work at the US Department of Education as a research analyst with a focus on sociolinguistic factors in education policy. Avre hopes to continue working in housing policy.

“I would like to work in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but eventually I would probably consider running for office, like U.S. House,” in order to bring issues like foreclosure to the forefront of national attention, Avre said.

Each college can nominate a maximum of four people for the Truman Scholarship. This year there were only four people at Macalester who applied. The hope is that in future years more students will show interest. Keefe and Avre encourage current sophomores passionate about public service to strongly consider it.

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