KU nominates 4 students for Truman Scholarships

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Four University of Kansas students — including three from Douglas County — have been selected as nominees for Harry S. Truman Scholarships.

The prestigious national awards are given to college juniors for leadership in public service, according to a news release from KU Wednesday morning. They provide up to $30,000 for graduate study, and they are highly competitive, with only about 60 Truman Scholars named nationwide each year, according to the release.

“Criteria for the nominations include an extensive record of campus and community service, commitment to a career in government or the nonprofit and advocacy sectors, communication skills and a high probability of becoming a ‘change agent,’ and a strong academic record with likely acceptance to the graduate school of the candidate’s choice,” according to the release.

Meet the four nominees (information courtesy of KU News):

“Sivani Badrivenkata, from Lawrence, is the daughter of Dayakar Badri and Haarisa Valasa and a graduate of Free State High School. Badrivenkata is majoring in pharmaceutical sciences and plans to pursue a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry to teach and conduct translational research in academia with a focus on integrating biologics in formulations to address global health needs. She currently conducts research in Michael Hageman’s pharmaceutical chemistry lab to assess the viability/efficacy of lactoferrin to treat vaginal E. coli infections in pregnant patients to prevent neonatal sepsis. Badrivenkata is a recipient of a spring 2023 Undergraduate Research Award, presented at the 2022 Kansas Pharmacists Association’s annual meeting and tradeshow and participated in the 2022 summer Undergraduate Research Program within the KU Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. She currently works as a speech and debate assistant coach at Free State High School, and in summer 2021, she was a research intern for a prostate clinical research project through KU Medical Center. Badrivenkata is a KU Global Scholar and a member of the University Honors Program, for which she serves as a program ambassador and previously served as an honors seminar assistant. Additionally, she hosted an art exhibition at the Kansas Union Gallery in fall 2021 and currently has five paintings displayed in KU campus libraries through spring 2023.” (If Badrivenkata seems familiar, it may be because we reported last week about her nomination for a Goldwater Scholarship.)

“Kat Balke, from Eudora, is the daughter of Jennifer and Bruce Balke and a graduate of Blue Valley High School. Balke is double majoring in English and Italian and aspires to earn a doctorate in English with a concentration in British medieval literature; become an English professor; and run a campus women’s center to support, advocate for and provide a safe space for abuse survivors. Balke transferred to KU from DePauw University. In her role as the vice president of equity and justice within student government, she successfully drafted legislation naming the new first-year residence hall Vernon E. Jordan Jr. Hall after the institution’s first African American graduate. Currently at KU, in collaboration with Jonathan Lamb, associate professor of English, Balke is researching ecofeminism in William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It.’ Additional research interests include gender, sexuality and consent in the Middle Ages. She also serves as a peer consultant and workshop facilitator for the KU Writing Center and is a student representative on the KU Core Curriculum Committee. Balke is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Helen Rhoda Hoopes Award for best English undergraduate essay written by a woman and was selected as a 2022 Distinguished Italian Student.”

“Cherin Russell, from Lawrence, is the daughter of Elizabeth Coleman and a graduate of Lawrence High School. Russell is a McNair Scholar majoring in English and plans to earn a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and become a grant writer at a consultancy or environmental nonprofit. She recently joined the volunteer team at the Ballard Center to assist with grant writing and environmental concerns. Russell also serves as a mentor within KU’s Academic Retention and Engagement Center and a tutor for the Academic Learning Center. Russell was awarded second place for the Helen Rhoda Hoopes Award for best English undergraduate essay written by a woman and earned the Certificate of Excellence in French Studies three semesters in a row, the TRIO 1st Year Achievement Award and the Paul B. Lawson Memorial Scholarship given to outstanding juniors. She has been a volunteer and advocate in the Lawrence community for more than 10 years and currently serves as an advocate at KU for nontraditional students and students with invisible disabilities.”

“Caroline Steele, from Olathe, is the daughter of Tim and Julie Steele and a graduate of Olathe Northwest High School. Steele is double majoring in political science and Spanish and minoring in social justice. She plans to pursue joint juris doctor and master’s degrees in public policy or public affairs, become an immigration attorney and develop policy for immigration reform. She has held several positions within Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, including vice president of Panhellenic executive board, founder and committee chair of the Wellness Committee, chair of the Spirit Committee and member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. She is also a member of the Dole Institute Student Advisory Board, a founding executive board member of the Women in Leadership Conference within KU Student Senate and a founding member of the Accessibility Committee and member of the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee of the KU Panhellenic Association. Steele currently serves as an Eye of an Immigrant ally, volunteers with the Johnson County Christmas Bureau and is a voter registration volunteer. In 2021, she served as the legal and city manager’s intern with the City of Olathe, and in 2022, she was a legislative intern in the office of Kansas Rep. Steven Johnson. Steele is a member of the University Honors Program and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the KU Chancellor’s Scholarship for academic excellence, the Great Plains Association Paul Max Service Scholarship for outstanding and innovative dedication to service and the Olathe Northwest Faculty Award, given to one outstanding senior in the graduating class.”

Next up, a national selection committee reviews applications from more than 800 nominees for the Truman Foundation; approximately 200 students will be named finalists in late February and invited for regional interviews in March and early April, according to the release. Scholarship recipients will be announced in late April.   

“Scholars receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government,” according to the release.

Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 as the federal memorial to President Harry S. Truman, according to the release. Since 1981, 20 KU students have become Truman Scholars. Most recently, Samuel Steuart received the honor in 2019.

KU’s nomination process is coordinated by the Office of Fellowships. Students who are interested in applying for the Truman Scholarship in future years can contact the office at fellowships@ku.edu.

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