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March 31, 2008

Three Juniors at Columbia and Barnard Named Truman Scholars

Three juniors who are pursuing careers in public service—two at Columbia College and one at Barnard College—have been selected as 2008 Truman Scholars by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Sarracina Littlebird (CC ’09), Nhu-Y Ngo (CC ’09) and Amanda Catherine MacLellan (BC ’09) will each receive scholarships worth $30,000 to be used for graduate study in their respective fields.

Sarracina Littlebird
Sarracina Littlebird

Sarracina Littlebird, an environmental biology major from Sante Fe, N.M. and part Native American, plans to use the scholarship to pay for law school.

“I have always been fascinated with the skills [required of] a lawyer,” said Littlebird. Afterwards, she intends to return to her pueblo in New Mexico to advocate for Native American rights, including education, land management and water use. “More and more of the culture’s dissolving,” said Littlebird. “I believe the court system is the place to champion cultural rights.”   

Nhu Y Ngo
Nhu-Y Ngo

As the first member of her family to go to college, Nhu-Y Ngo, a history and political science major, aspires to fight for immigrant rights, with a focus on language access.

“To effect structural changes, I realized I could do more good in public service,” said Ngo, who emigrated with her parents to the United States from Vietnam when she was three years old. While Ngo admits that her mother had reservations about her daughter pursuing a public interest career, Ngo seeks to show her community that public service “is a viable route…that you can give back in different ways.”

Amanda Catherine MacLellan
Amanda Catherine MacLellan

Amanda Catherine MacLellan credits the depth of support in the Barnard Community for her current success.

“I realized how many people I see everyday care about what’s going on in my life,” said MacLellan. A native of Manchester, N.H., and majoring in English in the Barnard Education Program, MacLellan plans to seek a master of arts in education.  Noting that the United States lacks a national standard for media literacy education, MacLellan plans to push for media literacy initiatives at the state and national level. “Without media literacy instruction, we are depriving students of the ability to make rational choices regarding what they consume and create.”

Columbia has not had more than one winner in a single year since 2003. “We had an excellent crop of candidates this year,” said Michael Pippenger, associate dean of fellowship programs and study abroad at Columbia. “Their passion for being agents of change really shone through.”

James Runsdorf, associate dean of studies at Barnard, shared the excitement: “We’re all very proud.  Amanda’s a very deserving student.”

All winners noted that they felt well prepared by their respective advisors, who worked with them throughout the application process, and staged mock interviews on their behalf. Pippenger described the preparatory process this way: “We challenge students to articulate their intellectual goals and professional dreams, and to be as precise as possible. We also tell them to have fun. It’s easy to forget that the experience of interviewing should be an engaging one.”

The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 as the federal memorial to the thirty-third President. This year, 65 students from 55 U.S. colleges and universities were selected as 2008 Truman Scholars. They were chosen by 17 independent selection panels on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability, and likelihood of ‘making a difference.’ The 65 scholars were selected from among 595 candidates nominated by 283 colleges and universities nationwide.

 - Story by Stacy Parker Aab