By Matt Kyle | Personal editor
The Truman Fellowship is a competitive scholarship awarded by the Truman Foundation to college juniors whom the foundation identifies as leaders. Students must have a strong record of public service and intend to pursue a career in public service. According to the foundation’s website, hundreds of young scholars apply for the scholarship each year.
Last month, 189 students were named finalists for the scholarship, including three finalists from Baylor. Baylor was one of the few schools, behind Stanford, Harvard, Montana and Duke, to have three finalists. There were 129 institutions represented among the finalists.
The three finalists are Shreveport, La., junior Veronica Penales; Littleton, Colo., junior Eliana Stromberg; and Houston junior Isha Thapar. Although the application process was long and difficult, the three finalists said the scholarship would help them achieve their goals for change both nationally and in their local communities.
Penales said the Truman Fellowship application process was the hardest thing she had ever done. She said she wrote 54 drafts of her candidacy.
In addition to writing 14 short essay questions, securing several letters of recommendation and an endorsement from Baylor, and completing an interview, candidates were required to write a formal policy proposal on a current legislative issue.
“My policy proposal is about LGBTQ rights in the workplace,” Penales said. “So I had to touch up all the Supreme Court cases that deal with this, Title VII, Title IX, just a lot of precedents. And knowing what you’re going to be asked, I think I prepared 108 Supreme Court cases the night before.
Stromberg said she became interested in the service because of her desire to have a legacy greater than herself and to help generations to come after her. Last semester, she interned for the US Department of Justice in the Environment and Natural Resources Division. During her freshman year of high school, Stromberg said she spent time with indigenous tribes in the Peruvian Amazon and saw first-hand how environmental injustice affected them.
“The Peruvian president had cut corners when commissioning a new sewage treatment plant to be built in the upstream town called Iquitos,” Stromberg said. “So basically human waste was pouring into the rivers they depended on and swam in every day, so they were chronically sick. It really upset me because I had developed a relationship with these children. I’ve been on the unwavering path ever since.
Thapar said she wants to pursue an MD/JD, which is a joint program allowing students to study both medicine and law. She said one of her long-term goals is to serve as an advisor to lawmakers on environmental policy.
“Issues such as environmental health disproportionately impact low-income, minority and marginalized populations,” Thapar said. “Having the opportunity to advocate for these groups that are not considered well represented in our political system is a great opportunity for me and something that can make a lasting difference.”
Penales said she hopes to go to law school to continue the work she has done with her internships, as well as join legal counsel for a nonprofit like the American Civil Liberties Union to continue. to work on policy change.
Penales has a history of activism at Baylor. Last school year, she co-wrote the ‘No Crying On Sundays’ bill in favor of chartering Gamma Alpha Upsilon while a student senator, and she was part of a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for granting Title IX exemptions to clerics. the universities.
“You get a special feeling when you fight for a cause bigger than yourself,” Penales said. “Everyone gives you all these challenges and obstacles that you have to face in order to push for these causes to succeed. I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I’m doing the job I do at Baylor and why I’m not just getting transferred in. It’s because I love Baylor enough to want to see it change.
After learning that they had been named finalists, the students said they felt happy and relieved, but also felt the pressure as they awaited the final decision on who would be named the scholarship recipient. Winners of the $30,000 scholarship will not be announced until the week of April 4.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” Stromberg said. “Now we are in a waiting game. But no matter what, I’m really grateful to be at this point and to have had this experience.