When President Jim Doti waltzed into the Irvine Lecture Hall to announce that junior Chelsea Takahashi was the recipient of a prestigious national award, he couldn’t find her face in a crowd of chemistry students.
The award-winner was late to school.
She rushed directly to her next class, biology, where 20 minutes into the lecture, Doti and Barbara Mulch, dean emerita and director of fellowships and scholar programs, announced that she had won the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.
Each year, students nationwide apply for a wide range of scholarships. Takahashi and Tracey Swan, a graduate student, received in March the national, government-funded Truman and Fulbright Scholarships, respectively, which will aid them in pursuing their educational endeavors.
Through awards such as these, recipients have the chance to pursue plans they might not otherwise be able to afford or coordinate. Whether conducting a research project in Paris or attending a dream graduate school, the scholars find new life paths through scholarship funding.
“I was excited and relieved but so embarrassed. My face was bright red because I don’t like having attention on me,” said Takahashi, environmental science and political science double major.
Even if recipients aren’t awarded, the application process itself provides them with an experience to think seriously and critically about their plans for the future.
“You have to think about who you are, what you want to do and what your career goals are,” Mulch said.
Takahashi won $30,000 to pursue her education at a graduate program of her choice. Tracey Swan, creative writing and English literature graduate student, received the Fulbright, which provides her a grant to pursue an independent research project abroad.
The Truman is for college juniors who exemplify leadership. Applicants must be committed to a career in public service, such as government, non-profit organizations or education. The scholarship provides financial assistance for graduate studies or leadership training.
Scholarships play a critical role in shaping a student’s future, from mapping out their plans after undergraduate studies to deciding where they want to attend graduate school, Takahashi said. The awards also open doors to careers and give students a leg-up in preparing to enter the workforce.
Government recruiters seek out Truman scholars, and through this process, recipients gain networking and contacts with government agencies. Takahashi thinks this will be beneficial for her future.
“It’s helped me shape the next 10 years of my life,” Takahashi said. “Finding a job will be easier in the long run.”
The Fulbright is open to a wider range of students, Mulch said. It offers students the chance to study, teach or conduct research abroad. It’s sponsored by the U.S. government and aims to build a mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries.
“It’s way up on my list of incredible moments,” Swan said, reflecting on winning the Fulbright.
The award will pay for Swan to spend eight months in Paris, including housing and travel expenses and a stipend for living expenses. Swan will conduct an independent research project on how Ada “Bricktop” Smith, an entrepreneur and jazz performer of the 1920s, changed women’s roles in society during that era.
Jeannie D’Agostino, ‘10 alumna and double major in French and peace studies, was awarded the Rotary Scholarship last year. The win has completely changed her educational plans, she said.
Before winning the award, D’Agostino planned on attending graduate school on the East Coast. But this fall, she will pursue a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.
“It really makes something that might not have been as possible before to manifest itself,” D’Agostino said.