University of Vermont Truman Scholarship Award Winners:
Jeanelle Achee '14, 2013 Truman Scholar
Nursing major Jeanelle Achee, a UVM junior, has been named a 2013 Harry S. Truman Scholar. She is one of 62 students this year to win the highly competitive national award, which recognizes those who want to make a difference in public service and "provide them with financial support for graduate study, leadership training, and fellowship with other students who are committed to making a difference through public service."
A Rochester, Vt. native, Achee enrolled at UVM dedicated to begin her training as a nurse as well as to develop an expertise in how to help women around the world, especially around issues of sexual violence. As a survivor of sexual violence, Achee has worked with communities throughout Vermont to advocate for women’s empowerment in areas of our society where it is needed most. She created a leadership weekend for the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars; an empowerment event for young girls who have a parent in prison. Her work with the organization introduced children to positive role models, strategies for living a healthy lifestyle, and how to foster self-efficacy.
In addition to her work with Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, Achee, a certified crisis counselor, has dedicated thousands of hours to counseling victims at Hope Works, Chittenden County’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to supporting people who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence. She has also been an active volunteer in statewide campaigns for presidential candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama. She’s volunteered for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ re-election. She co-founded the Vermont Student Summit for Building Peace in Iraq, a foundation for a statewide student-led peace group. She’s received state and national recognition for her service to her community, including the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award, the Miss America Community Service Award, and the Vermont Governor’s Award for Outstanding Community Service. A global studies minor, she is also a member of Mortar Board, and is a former member of the Dewey House for Civic Engagement, UVM’s residential learning community for students who are dedicated to becoming engaged and active members in the community through public service.
Tad Cooke '14, 2013 Truman Scholarship Finalist
Tad Cooke ’14 was named a 2013 Truman Scholarship Finalist. An energy and food systems major at UVM (a major he self-designed), he has been leading the way in implementing green energy systems at UVM and in the Burlington community. In 2012 he wrote a grant and received $23,000 to create a heating system for the greenhouse at UVM’s Horticulture Farm; that system relies exclusively on renewable energy. For this project, he and fellow undergraduate Erick Crockenberg designed and is in the process of installing a biothermal energy system powered by farm waste that is produced daily (such as dairy manure, bedding, and compost). This renewable energy system is the first of its kind not just at UVM but at any university; it is carbon-negative, and it gives the greenhouse the ability to heat itself using the natural processes occurring in the greenhouse. Most recently, he has submitted a proposal to the City of Burlington to repurpose the Moran Power Plant (a defunct coal power plant and a vacant eye-sore prominently located on the city’s waterfront).
Tad is originally from Williston, Vt. After he graduates from UVM he plans to continue to work with local communities to establish net-zero energy structures. He also intends to create a non-profit that will help cities identify and repurpose structures to become producers of green energy.
Hillary Laggis '14, 2013 Truman Scholarship Finalist
Hillary Laggis ’14 was named a 2013 Truman Scholarship Finalist. A public communications major, she has been a leader and a change maker throughout the UVM campus and in the Vermont community. On campus, Hillary is best known for her tireless work in 2012 to unite the UVM student body and local Burlington community behind a vision of empowering lower income local youth to get involved in the outdoors. Her work brought together the DREAM (Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure and Mentoring) Program (a program that pairs a local lower-income student with a UVM student mentor), 15 DREAM mentees, the Outing Club, and over 40 other student groups to hike portions of Vermont’s Long Trail as part of UVM’s annual Catamountain Classic. The organization was called Avi Adventures, named after a UVM student and friend of Laggis'.
After Hurricane Irene struck Vermont in August 2011, Laggis also got heavily involved in the relief effort. She saw what worked and what didn’t as people throughout the state struggled to get back on their feet after the storm.Her work earned her the Pearson Prize, a national award that acknowledges students who are leading the way in service learning.
Hillary is originally from Hardwick, Vt. After graduating she intends to work in the non-profit sectors on issues related to communications and disaster relief.
Brent Reader '13, 2012 Truman Scholar
Even the smallest task seemed insurmountable to 2012 Truman Scholar Brent Reader when he returned home from a tour in Iraq as an Army combat medic. Just a trip to the store where he'd overhear everyday, trivial conversations was insufferable for the veteran as he fended off images from the war, including the trauma of trying to save the life of his close friend who had been shot beside him.
Reader, a junior social work major, spent twelve months in Ar Ramadi, considered the most dangerous city in the world at the time, and saw everything from ambushes to roadside bombs to firefights. On one occasion, he recalls walking over dozens of bodies after two people detonated themselves in a line to sign up to become Iraqi army and police.
“I had to tip-toe across the bodies I couldn’t help anymore to get to the ones I still could,” he recalls. “I can remember seeing a guy get shot in the chest and then talking to my daughter 45 minutes later on the phone about her finger painting. I had to shut my emotions off to deal with the war, but it’s a lot harder to turn them back on when you return. I was a complete mess when I got home.”
Reader says it took years to get his own issues under control and that he didn't always connect with counselors who hadn't served and didn't understand what he was going through. This helped fuel his desire to help other veterans, some of whom were coming to his house just to talk or ask questions about accessing veteran services. His wife, Misty, half-jokingly started calling their residence "the home for wayward soldiers" and encouraged him to go back to school.
‘Physician, heal thyself’
“There’s a saying, ‘physician, heal thyself,’ that really spoke to me,” says Reader, who credits his father, a Vietnam War veteran and educator, for helping him deal with his post-war struggles. “The best way for me to do that is to help others. I had started to address my own issues and I wanted to help other veterans, but I wasn’t sure how to do that outside of the military. That’s when I decided to go back to UVM for social work.”
Before the war, before marrying and having children, Reader originally enrolled at UVM after graduating high school in 1996, but struggled in the classroom before being dismissed from the university in 1998. “I didn’t take college seriously, didn’t appreciate it,” he says of his first attempt. “I let it slip through my fingers.” After leaving school he worked at IBM and Ben & Jerry’s before feeling a duty to join his fellow Vermonters in Iraq.
After his medical discharge from the Guard in 2010, Reader returned to UVM focused on a new goal: to pursue a bachelor's in social work (eventually a master's and possibly a doctorate) to help fellow veterans through counseling, teaching and the improvement of public policy.
Even while struggling with the aftermath of the war, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury he sustained from a series of IED blasts, Reader has thrived at the university. This spring, he was named as one of only 65 Truman Scholars nationwide, an award for those with a goal of making a difference in public service. Truman Scholars receive leadership training and financial support to attend graduate school.
Earning the Truman
In addition to his work and aspirations to help veterans, Reader, an Abenaki Nation member, was cited for his work as a public health researcher for the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the Vermont Department of Health. He has played a central role in the University of Vermont/Abenaki Partnership, where he’s been directly involved with planning and administration of community development projects in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties that reinforce culturally competent approaches to social services. He is one of a half-dozen people who can still speak Western Abenaki, which he made a point to learn from an elder in an Abenaki village north of Montreal after a conversation with his great-grandmother who stressed the importance of keeping the dying language alive.
Reader, whose 2010 briefing to Sen. Bernie Sanders helped the legislator appropriate $2.1 million to the Vermont Veterans Outreach Program, is the third UVM student to win the Truman award. Alumna Kesha Ram, now a Vermont state representative, was a winner in 2007 and William F. Steinman was a winner in 1988. Two other UVM students were chosen as finalists for this year's Truman award: Alma Arteaga '13, an economics and environmental studies double-major from Keene, N.H. and Eliza Kelsten ’13, a political science and history double-major from New Albany, Ohio.
The Truman Foundation selects finalists and scholars through a rigorous application review and interview process, which, at UVM, is overseen by the Office of Fellowships Advising.
“Brit Chase, our fellowships adviser, spends an almost unimaginable amount of time recruiting and then preparing students for the Truman competition,” said Lisa Schnell, associate dean of the Honors College. “All four Truman nominees this year benefitted enormously from Brit’s dedication; the three finalists, in particular, know how much of her goes into this process. But the success of these candidates is all their own — they are an amazing group of students. All of us who were associated with the competition this year were inspired by them. And we simply could not be happier that Brent made it all the way — he’s an extraordinary human being.”
For his Truman application, Brent received letters of support from Captain Christopher Gookin, U.S. Army; Geoffrey Pippenger, constituent advocate for Senator Bernie Sanders; Dr. Joseph Nasca, a pediatrician from Georgia, Vt.; and Professor Gary Widrick, chair of UVM’s Department of Social Work.
“I’ve been fortunate to have Brent as a student in two of my classes,” says Widrick. “His contributions have always been exceptional and based upon clear reasoning and a desire to push his learning boundaries. He is clearly a student leader but in a quiet, confident way that wins him support from his fellow students.”
With the help of the Truman award, Reader will hone his leadership skills and carry out his original mission in returning to school.
“Whenever someone says that soldiers who are coming home from war are falling apart, then the blame game starts,” Reader says. “Some will blame the VA for being too slow in delivering services or the military for not mitigating PTSD symptoms, but the truth is that it’s more complex than that and involves numerous reasons. I don’t want to point blame; I just want to fix the problem through good public policy.”
Alma Arteaga '13, 2012 Truman Finalist
Alma Arteaga ’13 was named a 2012 Truman Scholarship Finalist. An economics and environmental studies major, Alma has been a leader and a change maker at UVM, in the Burlington community, and in the state of Vermont. At UVM she is president of the UVM College Democrats, is a member of the UVM Board of Trustees’ Socially Responsible Investing Work Group, and sits on the College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Search Committee. In 2011 she was also the one student appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Group on the UVM and the State of Vermont Relationship. She has also been extremely involved in Democratic politics in Vermont. She is co-founder of the Young Democrats of Vermont, has volunteered for many presidential, gubernatorial and local campaigns as well as for Democracy for America. She is also a current intern in Governor Peter Shumlin’s office, where she has worked on tax policy, energy efficiency and environmental issues.
Alma is originally from Keene, New Hampshire and currently lives in Burlington, Vermont. After she graduates from UVM she plans to attend law school and work in public policy on issues related to energy efficiency and climate change.
Eliza Kelsten '13, 2012 Truman Finalist
Eliza Kelsten ’13 was named a 2012 Truman Scholarship Finalist. A political science and history major, Eliza has focused her activist efforts on addressing social justice issues for women and the LGBTQ population. At UVM she is a lead organizer for the Translating Identity Conference (the largest student-run conference at the university), which focuses on transgender identity. In December 2011, Eliza organized the first UVM campus visit day specifically geared for LGBTQA high school students. Eliza has also worked to connect and mobilize UVM’s LGBTQA student organization, Free2Be, with LGBTQ student organizations in local high schools to implement a program that enables LGBT high school students to connect with college students. She is also an AdvoCat and is a member of VOX (Voices for Planned Parenthood).
Eliza is originally from New Albany, Ohio, and she has worked as an intern for former Governor Ted Strickland as well as Planned Parenthood of Ohio. After she graduates from UVM she plans to attend law school and ultimately work in public service and public policy on issues related to women’s rights and LGBTQ equality.
Rachel Schneider '12, 2011 Truman Scholarship Finalist
In February 2011 the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation announced that Honors College junior Rachel Schneider was a finalist in the 2011 Truman Scholarship Competition. Schneider, a Social Work major, received the recognition for her outstanding academic accomplishments and commitment to public service. And indeed she carries a very impressive set of service activities that are centered on her energy and passion for working with and engaging adolescents, particularly those who live in rural areas.
As a Fair Haven, Vermont native, Schneider is familiar with the challenges as well as potential that the adolescents in the town (as well as other rural towns across the state and country) possess. Her commitment to the well-being of her home community influenced Rachel to partner with the Slate Valley Teen Center to organize a summer youth camp, called Summer Teen Thursdays. Schneider then organized and directed the camp, which offered teens a place to hang out and a place where they could become more engaged with their community.
While she has made a significant and positive difference for Fair Haven, she has a passion to work with teens from all over Vermont, in both rural and urban areas. This past winter she jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the start-up of Service Rendered, a Burlington-based nonprofit youth services organization. Like Schneider, the organization embraces the idea of empowering local adolescents to make positive changes to their community. As the Assistant Director of Service Rendered, Schneider worked with local youth and helped establish a "Chill Out Center" in a South Burlington mall this past January. She is now working to establish similar youth community centers across the state.
She is busy as an advocate for at-risk adolescents, but it is not the only service work she does; she also volunteers at H.O. Wheeler elementary school, where she has the opportunity to help recently-arrived refugee and immigrant children learn English, and she has been a volunteer with the local Ronald McDonald House. Her spirituality plays a very influential role in who she is and who she wants to be in her community, and she has taken on a leadership role in a local chapter of SGI-USA, a Buddhist organization.
Schneider is the third UVM student to be a finalist in the Truman Scholarship competition, and the first since 2007 when Kesha Ram '08 received the award. The highly competitive Harry S. Truman Scholarship - approximately 65 are awarded nationwide - provides $30,000 to juniors planning to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in public service. Winners also receive leadership training, graduate school counseling, preferential admission to premier graduate institutions and internship opportunities with federal agencies. Each year UVM is allowed to nominate up to four juniors to participate in the competition.
Kesha Ram '08, 2007 Truman Scholar
Kesha Ram, an Honors College senior from California, has been named a Truman Scholar for the coming year. She is the first Truman winner at UVM since 1995. Ram, recently elected SGA president, is a student in the Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources as well as the College of Arts and Sciences, pursuing a double major in natural resources and political science. The highly competitive Harry S. Truman Scholarship - approximately 80 are awarded nationwide - provides $30,000 to juniors planning to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in public service. Winners also receive leadership training, graduate school counseling, preferential admission to premier graduate institutions and internship opportunities with federal agencies. Prior to her winning the Truman, Kesha was selected as a McNair Scholar during the summer of 2006 in recognition for her involvement in campus activities.
As a McNair Scholar, Kesha participated in summer research, working on a project entitled, Preventing Environmental Injustice: A Tale of Two Cities. Last year, as a junior, Kesha received a $5000 Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, the premier undergraduate environmental scholarship, becoming one of 80 students from 59 colleges across the country to win the award. She, together with Zachary Ewell, were the first-ever Udall winners from UVM. In addition to her scholarship awards, Kesha spent the fall of 2006 in an internship in Washington, DC, in the office of Senator Diane Feinstein, D-California.
Prior to her election as this year's SGA president, she served as a senator to the Student Government Association during the 2005-06 academic year. Presently, she serves as a member of the UVM President's Commission on Racial Diversity, as well as the student representative on the UVM Board of Trustees Executive Committee. Capping off her remarkable year, Kesha is the 2007 student life award winner, and recipient of the Environment Citizen Award for her outstanding commitment to the environment.
Last modified May 14 2013 02:24 PM