'For example, I encourage candidates to research the people in the real world who are making an impact in the areas they are interested in,' says Associate Professor of Political Science Kenji Hayao, BC's coordinator for the Truman program. (Lee Pellegrini)

Spring is not only graduation time, it's when many national academic fellowships and awards are announced, notably the Harry S. Truman and J. William Fulbright scholarships, both considered among the most prestigious of such honors.

Last month, Natalee Deaette '19 became the 11th BC student in the last 20 years, and 19th overall since 1981, to earn a Truman, which supports the graduate education and personal development of standout undergraduates committed to public service leadership.

Boston College has consistently been among the nation's top 20 Fulbright producers, but administrators say the University's success in the Truman Scholarships program—with a distinctively rigorous and exacting application process—is equally worthy of acknowledgement.

Taken with other highly competitive fellowships won by BC students in the past two decades, including Rhodes, Marshall and Goldwater scholarships, the Truman track record is another measure of the University's academic excellence.

Fewer than 80 colleges and universities have achieved the status of Truman Honor Institutions—and BC is one of them. Truman Honor Institutions are chosen on the basis of a college or university's encouragement of outstanding young people to pursue careers in public services; effective promotion of the Truman program on their campus; and sustained success in helping their students win Truman Scholarships.

Other Truman Honor Institutions include Brandeis, Brown, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities, and the universities of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Associate Professor of Political Science Kenji Hayao was named BC coordinator for the Truman program in 2002, when he succeeded departmental colleague Associate Professor Jennie Purnell (the two swapped the position a few times, Hayao says, although both worked with students interested in the Truman). In addition to the nine students who have earned scholarships since then, Hayao notes that BC has averaged two finalists a year for Trumans.

Approximately 55 to 60 Trumans are awarded nationwide each year, compared to the Rhodes (32) and Marshalls (about 40), says Hayao. Natalee Deaette, this year's BC winner, was one of 59 winners chosen out of a pool of 756 candidates.

Applying for any competitive fellowship or grant takes effort and commitment, but the Truman application requires more work than just about any scholarship, according to Hayao: Students not only have to list their relevant activities and accomplishments, but also describe their desired entry position after graduate school, and how they see their career unfolding five years and more beyond that. In addition, applicants must write a policy proposal related to their particular area of interest.

To recruit potential Truman candidates, Hayao keeps in touch with faculty members, particularly from political ccience, international studies and sociology—and undergraduate deans, as well as the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program. He usually contacts 50 to as many as 75 students individually about the Truman, and follows up with a few dozen for further discussion; typically, eight to 12 students end up applying.  

"When they start work on the application, most students don't have clear ideas about what they hope to do for a career yet," Hayao says. "I give them advice about how to think about this. For example, I encourage them to research the people in the real world who are making an impact in the areas they are interested in. I also give them suggestions about how to shape their policy proposals. Generally, each student will go through multiple drafts for each of the essays."

Hayao also confers with persons writing letters of recommendation for BC applicants, since the letters often play an important complementary role by providing greater depth and detail about students' activities.

However demanding the application process, Trumans have a value that goes beyond the up to $30,000 they provide for graduate school, he says.

"Many students can also leverage the award to get more funding at a number of grad schools. Just as important, the Truman provides access to its network of Truman Scholar alumni, who are involved in all aspects of public service: government, politics, education, NGOs, academia."

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Akua Sarr and other colleagues hail the achievements of BC's Truman Scholars, and laud Hayao's role in the program.

"Our success with the Truman Scholarship'is very much a result of Kenji's leadership and commitment," she says. "I'm grateful for Kenji's many years of generous support of our Truman applicants."

As for Hayao, after 16 years, he is quick to cite the best thing about being the Truman coordinator: "Meeting and working with some truly amazing students and helping them think more clearly about their potential careers in public service."

—Sean Smith | University Communications