In addition to their day jobs as Yale undergraduates in New Haven, two juniors’ commitment to Africa has helped put them on the fast track toward careers in public service.
Emily Morell ’09, who runs a nonprofit organization targeted at helping malnourished HIV/AIDS patients in Rwanda, along with Samuel Ayres ’09, who has worked with refugees displaced by the civil war in neighboring Uganda, are among the 65 college juniors nationwide named Truman Scholars for the 2007-’08 year.
Morell and Ayres will each receive $30,000 for graduate study as well as priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some graduate schools and internship opportunities within the federal government.
The 65 juniors chosen to receive the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation scholarship this year were selected from 595 nominees on the basis of leadership potential and academic achievement. Yale, like most major universities, nominated four students. All winners are planning to pursue careers in government or the nonprofit sector.
Yale had one Truman Scholar last year, none in 2005-’06 and one in 2004-’05.
Linda De Laurentis, fellowship director of Yale’s Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs, said the nominees go through a highly rigorous selection process designed to identify juniors with the potential to “make a difference.”
“The Truman Scholars are expected to be very involved in giving back to the community in some way,” she explained. “They’re expected to be leaders and to have demonstrated leadership already. They’re expected to be change agents in their field of interest.”
Morell, a biology major, co-founded the nonprofit Gardens for Health International with a student at Brown University in fall 2006. The organization seeks to break the “vicious cycle” in which some HIV/AIDS patients do not respond to medication because they are malnourished, which in turn inhibits their ability to seek proper nutrition, Morell said.
The organization — which won $25,000 from JP Morgan in its 2007-’08 Good Venture Competition — funds a “nutrition through agriculture” program implemented on the ground by a Rwandan organization, Morell said.
“Instead of giving food to people, you give them the tools so they can improve their diets,” Morell said, noting that many AIDS patients in Rwanda have difficulty obtaining ownership of farming land. “The program provides them with fortified seeds, better tools, training in sustainable agriculture and nutrition eduction.”
Morell also founded an international development center at Yale for the Roosevelt Institution. There was previously no outlet for international policy discussions at the Institution, she said.
Morell plans to attend medical school and pursue graduate studies in public policy and public health. She hopes ultimately to embark on a career in the fields of global health policy and medicine, she said.
Like Morell, Ayres has also spent considerable time in Africa, but he has focused his attention on Uganda.
Ayres spent last summer in Uganda working on refugee policy and advocacy with the Uganda-based organization Refugee Law Project. Over the summer, he also traveled to northern Uganda with the U.S.-based nonprofit uNight, where he visited internally displaced persons camps and met with former child soldiers.
This past year, Ayres has continued working with uNight to set up programs to help teach the children of Uganda leadership, business and academic skills. He plans to return to Uganda this summer on the Yale Law School Liman Fellowship, he said.
“Some of the world’s worst emergencies and conflicts — Northern Uganda, for example — are the ones rarely reported in the news, and once you are exposed to them it’s hard to turn away,” Ayres said.
Ayres hopes to attend law school and pursue graduate studies in public policy. Down the road, he would like to continue working on refugee and mass atrocity prevention issues through international law, possibly for the International Criminal Court.
In addition to his work in Africa, Ayres is active in the Yale for Obama group and is a staff cartoonist for the News.
De Laurentis said Morell and Ayres will become part of an active Truman Scholar community, which will gather in May for a weeklong leadership session in Missouri that will feature government dignitaries and other officials speaking about public service opportunities.
Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975, and its awards are supported by a U.S. Treasury trust fund. Since the first awards in 1977, 2,610 Truman Scholars have been named.