After a months-long application and interview process, two Boston College juniors, Max German and Jenna Mu, both MCAS ’22, received phone calls last Wednesday from University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., informing them that they had been named 2021 Truman Scholars.
“President Leahy called me and told me the good news, and we had a conversation, and I remember … my jaw was dropping, and I was going all over the place in my mind,” German said.
Congress established the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 with the intent of cultivating the next generation of public service leaders. Recipients of the scholarship earn up the $30,000 to use toward a graduate program or their professional endeavors.
German and Mu are BC’s 20th and 21st Truman Scholars since 1981, and were each selected from a record-high 845 candidates nominated by 328 colleges and universities across the country, according to a University release.
BC is among fewer than 80 colleges and universities in the nation named a Truman Honor Institution as a result of its “encouragement of outstanding young people to pursue careers in public services, effective promotion of the Truman program on their campuses, and sustained success in helping their students win Truman Scholarships,” the release said.
German, a political science major, said that he focuses his work on the intersection of history and public policy.
Through his studies and research at BC, German said he looks to answer questions such as “what does it mean to be an engaged citizen?” and “how can you apply the founding documents to what it’s like to be a citizen when our society looks radically different?”
The lengthy Truman Scholar application process includes upwards of a dozen essays, including a policy proposal in a field related to the applicant’s interests. German said that his proposal centered around voting rights and automatic voter registration due to his background in political activism and community engagement.
“[Automatic voter registration] puts the ownership of registering voters on the government and not people having to do it themselves,” German said.
German’s affinity for public service stems from a personal connection after earning a “second chance” at his education. Out of high school, German attended Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Mass., but after one semester withdrew to focus on sobriety. After some time off, German realized that his future lay in earning his college degree, and he returned to that same community college.
“It provided me a platform to kind of excel,” German said. “I was learning the diversity in the room, it was so incredible—the lessons that I was learning. … I guess I was learning life lessons in the classroom. I ended up, like, really kind of coming into my own there.”
German transferred to BC in 2019, and his choice to do so, he said, was based on a combination of BC’s “culture of service” and rigorous academics.
German has not yet decided his postgraduate plans—he is unsure whether he wants to attend law school, study public policy, or something else entirely, he said. In the meantime, German said he plans to take a year off to do service work through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, which works with nonprofit and public agencies to end poverty in the United States.
Although he is unsure of where his Truman Scholarship will take him, German said that the application process afforded him the opportunity to do deep personal reflection.
“It’s kind of funny with these things in that they kind of force you to take, like, an objective look at your life,” German said. “You really have to kind of look back and craft these narratives. … It’s like a large examen on yourself.”
Mu’s application process led her through a similarly reflective experience, she said, one that facilitated a deeper understanding of the intersections of her four main academic interests: dentistry, service, global health, and environmental justice.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m the most traditional student,” Mu said. “So, applying for the Truman application and, you know, getting that external validation that yes, I could pursue all four of these fields and really make a difference, that just meant so much to me.”
The Truman Scholarship will allow Mu to pursue two advanced degrees—a dental degree followed by a master’s in public health. The former, she said, will allow her to pursue her interest in human-centered work and treating patients, while the latter will provide her with opportunities for more abstract thought and policy making.
“This will allow me to not only think about dental care access but actually write policies and tackle the systemic barriers to dental care access,” Mu said. “As I mentioned my interest in environmental justice, and so again, the [Masters in Public Health] will really equip me to tackle these issues via policy.”
Mu, who is also a Gabelli Presidential Scholar at BC, crafted an independent major in global public health, which stemmed from both her interest in dentistry and the already-existing global public health and the common good minor program.
As a pre-dental student, her academic focus revolves heavily around STEM classes, so by applying for an independent major, Mu said that she was able to combine some of her major areas of interest.
“I took classes for the global health minor, which is an official minor, and I saw that they really complemented [my STEM classes], which allowed me to take the STEM knowledge and translate it into solutions in the real world,” Mu said.
Mu’s draw to service was spurred on by her brother Jesse Mu, BC ’17, who majored in computer science at BC, she said.
“It was really touching because whenever I talked to him about his field, it always comes back to … ‘I’m doing this because this is the way that I can serve as many people as possible,’” Mu said. “Then I came here and I also just saw what he was talking about, like the holistic education, the service-oriented education, you know, being people for others.”
Featured Graphic by Éamon Laughlin / Heights Editor