On top of her schoolwork and other responsibilities on campus, Stephanie Kuzmack went after an opportunity most students do not pursue. After nearly a year of perseverance, her efforts were rewarded, as she was named a 2020 Truman Scholar.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting prospective and current public servants, named Kuzmack a 2020 Truman Scholar and awarded her the $30,000 Harry S. Truman Scholarship on Wednesday. This designation makes her the second Tech student to be named a Truman Scholar with the first being Joy McGlaun in 2001.
Kuzmack, a senior sociology major from Española, New Mexico, said it was surreal receiving the honor, which she was worked toward for nearly a year.
“I’m just really grateful for everyone at Tech doing that with me,” she said regarding the support she has gained throughout the application process. “I’m just really honored. I can’t believe I won it.”
During her freshmen year, Kuzmack said she received an email that she could be a viable candidate for the Truman Scholarship. After going to an information session about the opportunity, she fell in love with the program.
Regarding the foundation, Kuzmack, who also is a Tech Student Government Association senator representing the Tech College of Arts and Sciences, said there is a network of public servants working in a variety of fields that could help her achieve her goals.
“It was just kind of a dream of mine to be recognized amongst them because they are, honestly, some of my idols and heroes who are in this whole foundation and this group,” she said. “It just sounded like a great opportunity.”
Applying for the scholarship is an endeavor many may not undertake due ton the commitment and certain requirements.
Wendoli Flores, director of the Tech Office of Prestigious External Student Awards, formerly known as National and International Scholarships and Fellowships, said being a Truman Scholar is a great accomplishment for students at Tech.
“It certainly does not come easily,” she said, “and I would say that we have so many students on campus that I believe have what it takes to earn a Truman Scholarship, but a lot of times, perhaps, the fear of not winning keeps students from applying.”
The application to apply is not short, which is why applicants need perseverance, Flores said.
“I’ve been working with Stephanie for over a year preparing all of this,” she said, “and so, it definitely takes a lot of time and dedication.”
Regarding the application process, Flores said an applicant starts by applying during their junior year if they are planning to graduate in four to five years or applying during their senior year if they plan to graduate in three years.
“You have to reach out to our office and let us know that you’re wanting to apply,” she said. “Once we know, we have an internal deadline through our office.”
The office uses all the application materials the Truman Foundation uses, Flores said. There is an online sample application that is given to applicants for the internal deadline.
“All those application components that Truman requires, we require them as well,” she said.
A review committee consisting of Tech faculty will evaluate the application and take part in interviews with applicants and decide which applicants will get endorsement from the university to apply for the Truman Scholarship, Flores said.
“Then, once they receive endorsement, then they can keep working on the application,” she said. “We can give them feedback based on their interviews on how to improve their application, things like that.”
Flores works with applicants, such as Kuzmack, to submit the best internal application, she said. Whether it be encouraging students to not shortchange themselves on the application or helping them tell their story through the essays, there is a lot of collaboration to polish application and submit it to the Truman Foundation.
“One of the things about Truman is they do require students that are applying to have a track record of public service and leadership and then, of course, their academic potential,” she said.
The Truman Foundation is looking for change agents who work beyond just getting good grades, Flores said. Students being involved in public service is important when applying for the scholarship.
Whether it be public service or government work, Kuzmack said she had a variety of work experiences to draw from for this application.
Bringing students together to help the Grace Campus homeless shelter in Lubbock, participating in the Bayless Elementary Mentoring Program and working as a congressional intern all are experiences that exemplify Kuzmack’s public service and government experience, she said.
“I was a congressional intern last summer through the Texas Tech program,” she said, “and I learned a lot there about being in this kind of arena, you know, and having to be professional and different things like that. I pulled a lot from that experience.”
Being considered for a Truman Scholarship and being a servant leader in general may require different qualities.
Kuzmack is very genuine and humble, which will help her in the public service field, Flores said.
“I feel like that, those characteristics, those attributes, are really important when you’re trying to be a servant leader,” Flores said.
Regardless, Kuzmack said the scholarship will help her in different ways, especially when pursuing graduate school. She said she also will defer her scholarship for a few years and take advantage of a fellowship in Washington D.C.
One of Kuzmack’s main goals is to attend law school, with her dream school being Columbia Law School in New York, and study criminal law, she said.
“I hope to come back and work as a prosecutor and slowly work up my way to becoming district attorney,” she said, “and from there, one day, I would like to run for Congress, but my main goal is to lower the violence rates here in my home town.”
Kuzmack hopes to return to her hometown and, one day, represent New Mexico and limit the crime rates there.
“If I can help individuals in different communities, then I can learn better ways that I can serve my own community,” she said.
Some motivating factors to pursue the scholarship have been individuals who have supported Kuzmack throughout the application process and her life, she said.
“My parents always pushed us to learn as much as we can, whether it’s formally or informally, through school or other activities outside of school,” she said.
The school in her hometown was not great, Kuzmack said. But her parents drove an hour away for her to attend a school in the Los Alamos Public Schools district. Her parents have pushed her, and she values education due to their sacrifice and commitment to education.
“They were all for me traveling out of state for college, and they were all for me studying abroad in Spain and learning different things over there. They were all for me interning in the summer and learning from there,” she said. “So, they’ve just always taught me, you know, in your spare time to learn as much as you can outside of school, whether it’s through books or your community or interacting with others.”
In addition, people, such as Flores and Michael San Francisco, dean of the Tech Honors College, have been a great help with the application process, Kuzmack said.
“[Flores] believed in me since day one, and every time I needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with, she’s always been there,” she said.
San Francisco also has helped her through the challenging Truman Scholarship application, Kuzmack said.
“He has been the driving force of this whole thing,” she said. “He’s really been so involved in it.”
An endeavor, such as applying for the Truman Scholarship, takes a village, San Francisco said.
“For her to be awarded this is truly a recognition, first and foremost, of her,” he said.
In addition to being proud of Kuzmack for being named a Truman Scholar, San Francisco said he hopes she will act as motivation for other students on campus to apply for the scholarship.
“I’m very, very happy for her,” he said. “I think she has her heart in the right place. She’s very bright, capable.”
Whether a student is interested in pursuing the Truman Scholarship or not, Kuzmack said they should find people that inspire them and figure out what their passion is. Before she considered applying for the Truman Scholarship, graduate school did not seem like a plan. Now, she is perceiving what her life will be like years after ending her education.
“There were times I wanted to quit and not even do it because it was really hard, it was a lot of preparation, a lot of work,” Kuzmack said. “But just kind of seeing the overall goal in everything I guess has been good.”