Rachel Brown-Weinstock, a senior with majors in policy studies, citizenship and civic engagement, and sociology, applied for the Truman Scholarship during her junior year. Although she did not ultimately receive the award, Rachel learned a great deal through the application process and advises young change agents to consider applying. Rachel is passionate about rural education and community support. A resident of rural Gloversville, New York, Rachel has already launched a mentorship program in her hometown called the Glove to Glove Career Mentorship Program.

The Truman Scholarship memorializes President Harry S. Truman by supporting outstanding U.S. juniors committed to public service. Candidates have an extensive record of public service and leadership. The scholarship seeks out students that have a plan to address a specific issue or impact a specific community and provides funding toward a graduate degree to further the scholars’ careers in public service.

As a finalist, Rachel traveled to New York City in the spring to interview with the scholarship’s Regional Review Panel. She says that she learned a lot from the application and interview process. CFSA asked her to share her experience with us.

How did you learn about the Truman and what inspired you to apply?

I learned about the Truman through Dr. Coplin [Director of the Public Affairs Program in the Maxwell School] during my freshman year. Connecting me to the Truman early on in my college career allowed me to read about past Truman winners. These past winners became my role models and exemplified what I could do in my corner of the world with some passion and perseverance. They inspired me to push myself and think outside the box about what I wanted to devote my time to as an undergraduate.

I applied to the Truman for many reasons. I wanted to gain the incredible opportunities afforded to Truman winners through their participation in the network of Truman alumni who have become major change agents in their field of service. Truman winners are also priority candidates in graduate school admissions, and I dream of going to one of the top sociology graduate programs in the nation. Finally, I think everyone wants to know the work that they do is valued by people who have clout and have helped shape our world. The Truman is that validation and can give recipients more confidence to boldly pursue their dreams.

What was the application process like?

The application consists of three letters of recommendation, a policy proposal, eight essay questions, and six questions that require you to list your activities, service, work experience, honors/awards, etc. I started looking at the questions and writing my thoughts about them in August before my junior year. I submitted multiple drafts throughout the fall semester to the internal nominating committee. The university is able to nominate up to four candidates to submit applications to the national competition. In order to claim one of those spots, I had to submit a final rough draft in December to SU’s nominating committee. Once I was officially nominated, I worked intensely over winter break to create a compelling and coherent application. I exchanged so many e-mails with members of the nominating committee and had multiple phone call conversations with Dr. Coplin. After my application was submitted and I learned that I was a finalist, I participated in two mock interviews, read a lot about current events, wrote out responses to potential interview questions, and really tried to gain as much knowledge about the societal problem I focused on in my application in preparation for the interview. I spent a lot of time pouring my heart out to Jolynn [Parker, Director of CFSA,] and listening to her advice, and her belief in my potential really gave me the confidence I needed for the interview.

Did you learn anything about yourself during the application process?

I learned that I need to have more pride and faith in myself. I learned that my quirkiness is an asset. I learned that my favorite qualities about myself are my passion and my genuine desire to serve others. And I learned that I have the qualities to make me a good leader and public servant. Even though I didn’t win the scholarship, I left the application process a much more confident woman because of what it taught me about myself.

Although you didn’t ultimately win the award, did you gain anything else through the application process?

The application helped me improve my writing and interview skills and gave me space in my busy schedule to further explore my passion (using the assets of rural communities to improve education for low-income, rural youth). More importantly, it really made me pinpoint what my passion was, what I wanted to do with my future, and how I wanted to use sociological research to engage with the public and inform the creation of my own rural education non-profit. It gave me the space and guidance to really reflect on what I want from not just a graduate school and a career in public service, but on who I want to become and what I want my life to stand for. The application gives you both an existential crisis and an answer to that crisis! It also connected me to incredible faculty and SU alumni who helped me learn to be proud of and believe in myself. That was the most valuable takeaway from the experience.

What advice do you have for future Truman applicants?

I would say to anyone who dreams of becoming a change agent to learn about the Truman scholarship and plan to apply to it early on in your college career. This helped me make a concerted effort to determine what I am most passionate about, learn how to articulate that passion, and participate in experiences that demonstrate that passion. As I said earlier, reading bios of former Truman Scholars also inspired me to rethink what I was capable of achieving in college. Additionally, learn how to use every application and interview question to showcase your passion and the unique aspects of your candidacy. Being passionate and authentic is crucial.

Finally, the people who apply to the Truman have a lot of heart, and it is easy for us to get so emotionally invested in what opportunities winning the scholarship would give us and what it would say about our character and our potential as leaders and change agents. I want to tell all future applications not to let the intense and self-reflective nature of the application process make you lose faith in yourself and what you can offer the world. Nothing should diminish the role you have taken to work with others to inspire change.