Photo courtesy of Xalma Palomino.

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On Tuesday, LSA junior Xalma Palomino was asked to come to the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships on her way to class. Palomino walked into the office, slightly confused to see LSA Dean Anne Curzan walking out at the same time. When she sat down, she received news that would change her future career in the public service field: Palomino was told she had been selected as a Truman Scholar, which is commonly known as one of the most prestigious awards for undergraduates who are planning to go into public service. 

Out of 705 original applicants in 2022, the 275 participating colleges narrowed the pool down to 600 nominees and sent their applications to the national review board. In the end, Palomino and 57 other Truman Scholars were selected. This year, the University of Michigan had five nominees and three finalists for the scholarship. 

Palomino said she credits her community for their support throughout the nomination and application process.

“Everyone in my life, in terms of my community (and) my family, have played a critical role in this and obviously without them … I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Palomino told The Michigan Daily.

The Truman Scholarship provides students with funding of up to $30,000 for graduate school and gives students access to scholar programs, priority admission into schools, advising and mentoring from public service leaders and preferred hiring in addition to the funding. 

Scholars are selected based on their leadership experience, commitment to a career in public service and their likelihood of success in graduate school, according to The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.

Congress established the scholarship in 1975 as the living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Henry Dyson, director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, said the Truman Scholarship is a prestigious and bipartisan program that attracts many students going into public service careers. It is meant to develop and inspire the future generation of public servants.

“The Truman Scholarship is considered the premier award for undergraduates who want to go into public service careers,” Dyson said. “I often say that public service careers can be interpreted either strictly or loosely. So in the strict sense, it means working for local, state or national government. And that can include any of the federal agencies, including the branches of military, international affairs, D.C. And, broadly speaking, public service means working for the public good in a variety of different sectors — it could include nonprofits, it could include academia.”

As a first-generation student, Palomino said she believes the Truman Scholarship will help her obtain a master’s degree in public policy and will give her opportunities to collaborate with other public service experts.

“I think more than anything, (the scholarship) really opened doors up into this whole network of people,” Palomino said. “Being surrounded by amazing people and an amazing network, and just like a support system that’s really based on public service and related to things that I really want to do with my future … I am a first generation student. So I am the first person to come to college for my family. So I think giving me that network is going to open up doors.”

LSA senior Cat Hadley was awarded the Truman scholarship last year in 2021. She is currently studying political science and plans to study public policy at the Ford School next year. Similar to Palomino, Hadley said the Truman scholarship provides scholars with a valuable network that connects them to a wonderful community of public servants. 

“I think the Truman, what it does is it gives you a really excellent network of folks that are passionate about similar things, for even like the finalists on campus and off campus, or my fellow Trumans,” Hadley said. “I think the best thing for me is just being able to tap into a network of folks and talk about the things that we’re passionate about, and there’s a lot of cross-collaboration in my cohort (of Scholars).”

Dyson said no matter what a student’s academic journey has looked like thus far at the University, Truman applicants will learn more about themselves and their ambitions through the process. Ideally, he said, students should begin thinking about applying for the scholarship in their sophomore year.

“But it’s through the Truman process that (students) really become much more aware and articulate about what their ambitions are,” Dyson said. “That’s my favorite thing about this scholarship is that it happens in junior year and the process of guided reflection and dialogue that the application (encourages) is one that is tremendously beneficial, not just for the one Truman Scholar that we get every year, or the three or four nominees and finalists that we have, but actually all the students who go through this process.”

Hadley said she also appreciates the reflection process she engaged in while applying for the Truman scholarship. As a result of the application process, Hadley said she learned a lot about herself and her professional goals.

“I think the Truman (scholarship) is a really good chance to reflect on where you are and where you want to be,” Hadley said. “And even if you don’t end up getting it, it’s still a really great exercise for people, like really thinking about ‘Do I want to be in public service? Is this the path that I want to be (on)?’”

Though the application process can be competitive and selective, Palomino said she would tell future applicants who are thinking of applying to the Truman scholarship to believe in themselves and lean on their social support systems.

“I know imposter syndrome is real, and it can prevent people from even applying to it,” Palomino said. “But even for myself, I didn’t think I could get past the campus round, and let alone be selected as a Truman Scholar. So, I guess really combating that self doubt, surrounding yourself with a community of people who believe in you and will help you overcome that doubt (is my advice).”

Daily News Reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at mintzrac@umich.edu.