Boston College Undergraduate Awarded Truman Scholarship
Published: Monday, April 29, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 29, 2013 01:04
“It was a complete shock,” said Narintohn Luangrath, A&S ’14, of being awarded a Harry S Truman Scholarship honoring “college juniors who show leadership potential and have an interest in government or public sector service.” As one of just 62 juniors selected from a field of 629, she had reason to be surprised, if due to the odds alone.
Luangrath, who hopes to continue her studies in political science with the pursuit of a J.D. degree, described the Truman application as “a very involved process. First, you had to be nominated by BC, and there are like seven essays, and a 20-minute interview. Editing the policy proposal took a long time.” The biggest challenge, though, was “how to explain the issue to people who did not have as much interest or held opposing views.”
Here, the issue in question was reforming the treatment of imprisoned asylum seekers in the United States, and Luangrath relished the opportunity to highlight the narrative of a group she felt was not given appropriate attention. “Over 48,000 asylum seekers have been detained in U.S. prisons,” she said.
As the child of scholar-immigrants from Thailand and Laos, her interest in immigration began early, observing those for whom “resettling was a lot harder because they knew no English, while many resources and privileges were not available to protect them.”
With a track record of multiple grants for summer research projects to study the burqa ban in France and immigrants in Ireland, Luangrath is the type of enthusiastic student for whom professors are particularly willing to provide opportunities. According to Kenji Hayao, the political science professor who served as her faculty sponsor on both occasions, “Narintohn was an especially interested and diligent student. I can help her a little bit, but she does this largely on her own.”
Despite claiming “a marginal role” in her achievements, Hayao was quick to celebrate Luangraths’s success and to contact his colleague Jennifer Erickson, who in turn said, “It was the greatest news, to see someone so deserving be recognized like this. I was away at a conference in San Francisco, but I just went around telling everybody that my wonderful research assistant had just won this major national award.”
“I was on the verge of starting a new research project,” Erickson said of her involvement with Luangrath, “and I wanted to bring her in as an Undergraduate Research Fellow because I knew how good the work that she did in my class was.” Moreover, Erickson said, “I hope that in working with me, she will learn things that can be applied to her own research: this is what you look for, this is what you do.”
“Before you even begin, you have to see what everyone else has done,” Erickson said. “Last semester, we were trying to get a sense of existing literature, and this semester we are looking at a wide range of data that shows us which countries are giving aid, which countries are receiving them, and what types of aid are being given. Narintohn has been extremely thorough with the details, but she is also able to see the bigger picture and to ask the most important questions. That’s a rare combination. You know all your energies are exhausted if she cannot find anything more.”
Erickson says Luangrath’s acumen for research is accompanied by a generous and humble nature. “At first, I didn’t think I was a good candidate for this particular fellowship,” Luangrath said. It was conversations with mentors such as Erickson and Vice Provost Donald Hafner that convinced the Oregon native she was making the right decision.
Hafner says Boston College has designated faculty coordinators for each major fellowship. “They know the intricacies, the deadlines, how the tilt of each fellowship suits this or that kind of person, and they can comment on the personal statements, saying ‘This is pretty good, but buried down here in the third paragraph is something really interesting,’” Hafner said. “As a whole, they are just wonderfully nice people who take great pleasure in helping applicants.
“When students are a little unsure of what they’re good at or whether they are personally the kind of student who would be successful, it’s helpful to have faculty members say, ‘You are talented, we think you can have this opportunity,” Hafner said. “The best thing is to start conversations with faculty as soon as possible, to learn about the opportunities and get a good appraisal. We hope students don’t decide for themselves that something would not be appropriate, without consulting with faculty.”