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Four Grinnellians Finalists For Truman Scholarship

By Jenny Mith

Over this past weekend, Anika Manzoor ‘13, Amanda Muskat ‘13, Jenny Peek ‘13, and Charity Porotesano ‘12 were notified that they had been selected as finalists for the Truman Scholarship.

A highly competitive federal scholarship awarded to college juniors who aspire to be leaders in public service, the Truman Scholarship is a feat for any student, let alone four from the same college.

“This is the first time that we’ve ever had four finalists. We’ve never had more than two finalists in a single year. Every year I kind of see a few schools that get four. It honestly never even really crossed my mind that some year we might have four finalists. It just seems so crazy, and it’s an amazing accomplistment for these four students,” said Doug Cutchins, Director of Social Commitment and mentor to Manzoor, Muskat, Peek, and Porotesano.

Having focused solely on the application process for over a semester, the thought that even one of them would be moving on to the finalist round had rarely occurred to Manzoor, Muskat, and Porotesano. Peek, who is currently in Ghana, was unavailable for comment.

“We all worked so hard to help each other with our applications and knowing that we all sort of worked as a team to make it happen together is huge news,” Muskat said.

Indeed, the finalists had worked so diligently on their applications that there was hardly any time to think beyond their personal statements, policy proposals, and group revision sessions.

“We’ve been meeting weekly since August. The Truman application is huge. They have to write probably four or five different short answers and an essay that’s basically a policy proposal. So, we just took it week by week, piece by piece, meeting Friday afternoons for the entire fall semester to make sure that they were all on track,” Doug said.

The finalists also recall the countless hours they spent slaving over the application, noting that the hard work apparently paid off.

“The process should have been a two-credit class because it was difficult. We were asking questions like, ‘What are you going to do five to seven years from now?’ You’re having to identify an issue in society that you’re really passionate about and come up with a policy solution to fix it,” Porotesano said.

In addition to being very time-consuming, the application process also proved itself to be quite an emotional experience for some of the finalists.

“It’s challenging feeling like you’re kind of baring your soul to a group of people who you don’t totally know that well yet, which is how I felt a lot of time. So, I felt very vulnerable during the process. I came out feeling stronger because of it, but it’s challenging to sit there and have a panel of people reading your personal statements, reading things that you’ve always dreamed about but haven’t said or verbalized,” Muskat said.

Ultimately, the finalists agree that the application process was more like a journey of self-discovery, during which they each gained greater insight into who they are and what their futures hold.

“In addition to having a really solid view of what the future could look like, it really made me feel like I’m an agent of my future. Thinking about assuming that role and having this fixed goal in mind, made me feel specifically like a change agent, like exactly what the Truman Scholarship is looking for. Even if I don’t get the scholarship, I’m still going to strive to do the things I delineated in my application,” Manzoor said.

Sure enough, the finalists’ newfound insights aligned perfectly with the criteria and objectives of the Truman Scholarship.

“As a potential Truman Scholar, there’s some issue or topic that you’re mad about, that you want to create change around,” Cutchins said.

This year, Grinnell’s finalists are tackling a range of issues, from the global empowerment of girls and women, to the equality of women in the workplace, to educational opportunities in American Samoa, and finally, the U.S. foster care system.

“My policy proposal was specifically about the issue of child marriage in developing countries and how it is a human rights violation that a lot of people aren’t aware of. It relates to a lot of things, from keeping girls from continuing their education to having pregnancy being the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 to 19,” Manzoor said.

“I’m really passionate about educational opportunities in American Samoa. One of the problems I came across was the teacher shortage,” Porotesano said. “So, I looked at different models that different countries or different states within the U.S. have used to alleviate or increase the number of teachers in the working field.”

“I was really looking at how to improve women’s status in issues of employment discrimination. My policy proposal focuses on implementing the paycheck fairness act to hold employers in the private sector more accountable for employment discrimination and to ensure that the private sector is what it should be–a meritocracy,” Muskat said.

With their respective policy proposals in mind, Grinnell’s finalists are gearing up for a round of interviews throughout March.

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