After weeks of anticipation, University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park campus student Stephanie McCracken was “shocked and honored” to receive official word from Southern Miss President Rodney D. Bennett that she was selected as a 2014 Truman Scholar. McCracken is the only recipient chosen from a Mississippi institution.
“From the beginning of this application process, I understood a student must demonstrate a high level of leadership and commitment to public service to even be named a finalist,” said McCracken, who is majoring in geography/geographic information systems with a minor in community health sciences. “I am beyond thrilled to know that my experiences and career interests met the Truman standard.”
McCracken’s first step towards the Truman Scholarship began with a nomination by her advisor and Honors College coordinator, Dr. David Holt. Throughout the application process, McCracken was guided by Robyn Curtis, national scholarship officer at Southern Miss, as well as support she received from faculty, staff, fellow students and previous supervisors who served with McCracken in the U.S. Air Force.
To prepare for her interview with the Truman Foundation’s Regional Review Panel, the final step of the application process, McCracken participated in several mock interviews, including with 2013 Truman Scholar and Southern Miss student Brandon Hersey; Lance Brown, who in 1999 became the university’s first Truman Scholarship recipient; and various university faculty and staff. This preparation allowed McCracken to better plan for her official interview on March 24 in Nashville.
“Not once did I feel alone throughout this long preparation,” she said. “Whenever I had a question, needed help, or felt at times, that I didn't have a chance at winning, someone was always there offering advice and guidance.”
“Stephanie’s selection as a Truman Scholar is a testament to the caliber of students we have at The University of Southern Mississippi,” said President Bennett. “Having worked diligently throughout her armed forces and academic careers and now earning this admirable scholarship, we are excited to see the future contributions Stephanie will make to our University, our state and our nation.”
As a Truman Scholar, recipients are expected to have an interest in making a positive difference in the public service sector. McCracken’s public service focus involves searching for ways to alleviate burdens caused by chronic diseases in the United States, primarily through preventative health education.
As a scholarship recipient, McCracken says she has a chance to strengthen her leadership skills and work within a government agency that fits her career goals and interests, which, for McCracken’s platform, would include the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control, or the National Health Institute.
Originally from Dayton, Ohio and a current resident of D’Iberville, McCracken’s extensive community service background and award recognition were received during her years of service as a medic with the U.S. Air Force. Concerned about the well-being of her fellow airmen, McCracken helped to modify and create successful and safe programs utilized by the Air Force. In acknowledgement of her community service and leadership efforts in the armed forces, McCracken received a variety of recognitions, including the Olson-Wegner Airman of the Year Award for the Air Force’s European region and the “Below-the Zone” promotion, which is given to only the top 15 percent of airmen.
“We are very proud of Stephanie being named a Truman Scholar,” said Dr. Frances Lucas, vice president for the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus. “She is an outstanding representative of our state, our university and the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus. She has exhibited the qualities and values of leadership and academia that are symbolic of the traditions of a Truman Scholar. We wish her all the best as she works toward pursuing her public service platform of health education.”
Currently a student in the university’s Honors College, McCracken serves as vice president of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the geography honor society. She was elected to serve as president of the honor society beginning in the fall semester. McCracken’s student organization membership also includes the Gamma Beta Phi Society and Golden Key International Honor Society, as well as serving as a student representative for the university’s student sustainability organization, EcoEagles.
McCracken is only one of 59 students from 52 U.S. colleges and universities chosen for the award. The Truman Foundation reviewed 655 candidates from 293 institutions. Students were selected based on their records of leadership, public service and academic achievement.
Since 2011, Southern Miss has been the only institution in Mississippi to have students awarded the Truman Scholarship. Three Southern Miss students were awarded the scholarship and another student was selected as a finalist over the past four years.
“I look forward to getting to know the other Truman Scholars in my class and taking part in the multitude of opportunities the Truman Foundation offers in helping Scholars grow into effective public leaders,” added McCracken. “After being named a Truman Finalist, I cannot tell you how proud I am to represent The University of Southern Mississippi competing for one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country. Now that I have been named the only Truman scholar in the state of Mississippi, I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled to be able to represent this state.”
The 2014 Truman Scholars will assemble May 22 for a leadership development program at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. McCracken, along with her fellow scholarship recipients, will be presented with their awards in a special ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., on May 25. To see a complete list of the 2014 Truman Scholars, visit: www.truman.gov/stories/2014-truman-scholars.
Students interested in applying for the Truman or other nationally competitive scholarships should contact Southern Miss National Scholarship Officer Robyn Curtis at 601.266.4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org