November 9, 2018
Hillary Hempstead
aerial photo of Oberlin College campus buildings in autumn
Photo credit: William Bradford

Among liberal arts institutions, Oberlin ranks third in the number of Truman Scholarship recipients.

During the 42-year history of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation , an organization that serves as the nation’s official living memory to our 33rd-president, it has awarded numerous scholarships to those interested in careers in public service. But a high number of those—20 in total—have been awarded to students at Oberlin. Among top liberal arts institutions, Oberlin ranks third in Truman Scholars, just behind Wellesley, with 21, and Swarthmore, with 26.

Recipients of the highly selective scholarship receive up to $30,000 to apply toward graduate study in the United States or abroad, along with enhanced access to competitive graduate schools and access to scholar programs. According to the foundation, nominations for the award have increased by more than 30 percent during the past six years. And all while the scholarship has become increasingly competitive, Oberlin students continue to garner the prestigious award.

Case in point: in 2018, two Oberlin students, seniors Kieran Minor and Sadie Keller were both named Truman Scholars.

Director of Fellowships and Awards Nick Petzak offers a possible explanation for the exceptionally high quantity of Oberlin Truman schoars: acts of service are commonplace for Oberlin students. “Oberlin College has a long tradition of attracting students committed to lives of public service and the type of excellence the Truman Foundation looks for, including demonstrated commitment to leadership and academic excellence,” says Petzak.

There’s no single avenue that one’s public service has to follow, and Oberlin’s Truman Scholars have taken various paths in public service. Recipient Karin Drucker ’11 began her career in public service primarily focused on advocacy.

“Before pursuing a graduate degree, my work had largely been as an advocate, working for nonprofits and doing other grassroots service.” Her long history of advocating for the needs of children and improving juvenile justice laid the foundation for her current pursuit: completing a juris doctor at the venerable institution that is Harvard Law School.

For scholarship recipient Machmud Makhmudov ’16, a former Student Senate leader and student worker in the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, the track to becoming a Truman Scholar was wholly natural. “The values of the award just aligned with my motivation to be in public service,” says Makhmudov.

After attending graduate school at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, followed by a stint working for speech writers in Washington D.C., he was accepted into the Marine Corps. Makhmudov has yet to employ the $30,000 he was awarded by the Truman Foundation, but he says that he may eventually use it to pursue a law degree after completing his military service.   

Truman Foundation Executive Secretary Andrew Rich says that the number of scholarship recipients at Oberlin signals the investment that the college makes in supporting students who care about making a difference in their careers through public service leadership.

“This is notable at a time when public service often seems undervalued within society. “[The foundation] tries to be a beacon for college students who care about making a difference, and Oberlin is supporting that cause among its students.”

When reflecting on the scholarship, Makhmudov encourages Obies to apply.

“Oberlin students are better suited for it than they may believe. A lot of students count themselves out, but so many are involved in activism or volunteer work. They may not think of what they’re doing as public service because doing those things is such a big part of the culture at Oberlin,’’ he says.

“But that’s an advantage that Oberlin has–service is so ingrained in the experience. You’re expected to do something to make the world a better place. Oberlin students are natural applicants.”

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