Three Yale juniors were among the 62 students from across the country awarded Truman Scholarships, a prestigious grant given to college juniors showing leadership promise in public service, on Wednesday.
Andi Peng ’18, Malina Simard-Halm ’18 and David Shimer ’18, the editor in chief of the News, were chosen from among 768 applicants from 136 universities by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation after a monthslong application process of recommendations, essays and interviews. The scholarship awards $30,000 to each student to pursue their graduate education, with the expectation that they will work in public service for three of their first seven years after graduation. Yale is the only university to have three Truman Scholars this year, according to Director of the Office of Fellowship Programs Rebekah Westphal. This year also marked the first since 2001 that Yale has had more than two winners.
“This year’s Yale winners are all exceptional examples of what the Truman Scholarship looks for: extensive records of public and community service, outstanding leadership potential and communication skills and commitment to careers in government or elsewhere in the public sector,” Westphal said. “Yalies are particularly well-suited to this fellowship.”
Yale outperformed the rest of the Ivy League this year, with one Truman Scholar being selected from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania; two from Cornell; and none from Columbia, Dartmouth or Brown.
Born in rural China and raised in Ohio, Peng said she knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue a career in public service to give back to the country that has given her family “so many opportunities.” A Global Affairs and cognitive science double major, Peng focuses on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Her experiences serving as the head teaching assistant of CS50 for two years and working at NASA over the summer have shown her the value of a computational background for anyone, regardless of college major, she said.
Peng said she hopes to study how technological innovation and public policy intersect to shape development and to eventually work in technology on projects with public impact.
“Truman is a fantastic opportunity, not only for me personally, but for scientists and women everywhere to know that their voices are important and valued in the public policymaking space,” Peng said.
Simard-Halm, who is majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics, said her time at Yale has solidified her interest in criminal justice reform. She conducts research for the Yale Students for Prison Divestment and works at the federal public defender’s office.
As one of the first children born to two gay men through assisted reproduction, Simard-Halm said she “grew up aware of the indirect and direct effects of discriminatory policy.” She is a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community, currently serving as a member of the Outspoken Generation — part of the Family Equality Council — and on the Board of Directors of the national nonprofit Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.
Simard-Halm said she hopes to practice public interest law after graduate school, either as a public defender or a civil rights lawyer in her home state of New Mexico. She added that she is thrilled that the Truman Scholarship will introduce her to people with similar interests as well as equip her with the skills needed to better serve her community.
“Ultimately, I would like to work to create, reform and affect public policy to combat civil inequality, focusing on criminal justice and immigration reform,” Simard-Halm said. “By offering leadership and policy programming, role models and educational support, Truman will help me achieve those goals.”
Shimer, a history major with a focus on Russia and Eastern Europe, leads the News and previously interned for Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 campaign policy team and general election debate preparations team. Shimer intends to complete his joint bachelor’s and master’s in history in May 2018 before pursuing a joint law degree and master’s degree in International Affairs.
“For someone like me who wants to spend his life in public service, the Truman is a dream come true,” Shimer said. “It’s a real honor to have been chosen.”
JT Flowers ’17, one of last year’s two Yale Truman Scholars, said the scholarship is about more than financial support. After attending Truman Scholars Leadership Week — an orientation program in May where students meet each other and work together in groups to solve specific societal problems — he realized how much the scholarship is about connecting with and “growing alongside” a community of passionate people.
There is tremendous value to having a collective community of scholars committed to the common good and helping each other improve in order to change society for the better, Flowers said.
Peng said the current political climate makes it all the more important for people who care about the society they live in to dedicate themselves to making it better.
“It’s tempting to take the easy way out, lament the types of things that continually appear in the news, but ultimately say that it’s someone else’s problem,” Peng said. “Our generation cannot turn a blind eye to these issues. This is why I am so proud of my fellow Truman Scholars, because they are making a lifelong pledge to public service.”
Two Yale juniors were awarded Truman Scholarships in both 2015 and 2016.
Contact Rachel Treisman at firstname.lastname@example.org .