When Charles Zhu ’11 walked into Jonathan Edwards College Dean Kyle Farley’s office last week after receiving a phone call to report to the dean’s office immediately, he thought he was in serious trouble. It was only after letting Zhu sweat for a couple of seconds that Farley broke the news to Zhu that he had been named a Harry S. Truman Scholarship winner.
Zhu was one of 60 students nationwide this year to receive a Truman scholarship, which provides $30,000 towards graduate study. Students are reviewed by an independent panel for their leadership potential.
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Zhu said he was very surprised and humbled to receive the scholarship; leadership is a partnership and the process of accommodating others to accomplish a goal, he said.
“I don’t think I can take credit any major accomplishments because they are always community based,” Zhu said. “I am just really lucky.”
Zhu was one of 576 candidates nominated by colleges and universities nationwide for the scholarship, which is awarded by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, established by Congress in 1975 and headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. According to the foundation’s Web site, Scholars must be United States citizens, and they must rank in the top 25 percent of their classes, display exceptional leadership and communication skills, and be committed to government or public service careers.
In addition to the cash prize, scholarship winners also benefit from leadership training, special federal government internship opportunities, and career and graduate school counseling. The scholars may also receive special financial aid packages and are given priority in admissions at certain graduate schools.
An environmental studies major from Tampa, Fl., Zhu is enrolled in the joint degree program at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where he will receive a master’s degree in environmental management in addition to his bachelor’s degree from Yale College in 2011. Zhu said he wants to receive his doctorate in environmental planning, preferably at the University of California at Berkeley. After school, Zhu plans to pursue a career in public service, but he said he is unsure of exactly where he wants to work.
“I want to be in a place where I can make the most impact in the most efficient way,” Zhu said.
Zhu was the former publicity director at Dwight Hall, which he said introduced him to how nonprofits work. He said he became particularly passionate about environmental issues since coming to Yale because environmental issues are the source of many other social problems, such as poverty.
At Yale, Zhu has been involved with passing legislation on environmentally-friendly cleaning products in New Haven and starting the bike-sharing program in the residential colleges run by the Yale College Council and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. In both instances, Zhu said he was proud of creating something tangible that benefits society, adding that he learned that creating viable change is a difficult process.
Zhu will receive his award in a special ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., on May 30 after attending a four-day leadership development program.