As one of 60 students in the country to win the prestigious Truman Scholarship this year, Susan Yue ’12 will receive $30,000 toward graduate study. The Harry Truman Scholarship Foundation defines a good candidate as one who “has an extensive record of public and community service, has outstanding leadership potential and communication skills and is committed to a career in government or elsewhere in public service,” according to its website.
About 30 Brown students completed an internal application for the scholarship, and the University’s internal review committee selected six to interview, wrote Linda Dunleavy, associate dean of the College for fellowships and pre-law, in an email to The Herald. The committee — comprising three professors, a dean and a previous recipient of the scholarship — nominated four finalists, the maximum allowed. The Truman Foundation then chose to interview three of those finalists and selected Yue to receive the scholarship.
Yue, who is currently studying abroad in Italy, said she plans to attend the Stanford University School of Education using the scholarship and will specialize in the education of linguistic minorities. She is considering taking some time off before graduate school to observe examples of successful education practices in Finland or Singapore that the United States could adopt.
The scholarship is open to juniors who are U.S. citizens and in the upper quarters of their classes. Yue, along with the rest of the junior class, received a letter from the Truman Foundation encouraging her to apply at the beginning of her junior year.
”I looked at it, and I almost threw it away at first,” Yue said. But after encouragement from one of her professors, Yue started looking at the application again. “It looked like something I would get a lot out of, even if I didn’t get it at the end. I would probably learn a lot just going through the process. It turned out to be very true.”
In the application, Yue had to suggest a way to address a problem in society. She proposed forming a pre-kindergarten program to teach English to students whose families speak other languages. Yue cited a class she took her sophomore year called SOC 1870A: “Investing in Social Change” as her inspiration. The course involved the process of philanthropy and tasked students with allocating $10,000 to a nonprofit in Providence. Yue’s group wanted to start its own English for Speakers of Other Languages program, but upon realizing the costs of such a program, instead decided to give that money to a group to enhance its preexisting program.
Before Yue attends school to get her master’s degree in education, she hopes to receive a master’s of arts in teaching degree and teach in an urban school district for four or five years. “I feel there are a host of complex issues that occur within a classroom, and learning those things before going into the policy world is not only beneficial, it’s necessary,” she said. “Before I can get up and tell teachers what to do and how to teach their kids, I need to become a teacher.”
In her application, she talked about growing up with her grandparents in Tianjin, China, before moving to the United States when she was six.
“From early on, I saw the many social and linguistic barriers for immigrant parents and how the public school system is so impenetrable when you don’t understand the language,” Yue said. “Coming into my own about what it means to be a first-generation immigrant while negotiating the forms of privilege I do have I think is what drives me to want to pursue a career in public service and public school administration.”
After receiving the scholarship, Yue said President Ruth Simmons promised her a “fitting celebration” when she returns from her time abroad in Italy. “I typically inform Truman scholars of the award and hold a small private celebration in my office,” Simmons wrote in an email to The Herald. “I am hoping for something similar, but no plans have as yet been set.”