May 25, 2019  

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Southern Miss Students Named Truman Scholarship Finalists

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The University of Southern Mississippi has produced three Truman Scholarship winners since 2011. (University Communications photo)

University of Southern Mississippi students Jaylen Hackett and JD Rimann have moved significantly closer to reaching historic academic milestones as the University’s newest finalists for the coveted Truman Scholarship.

Hackett, a political science/economics major from Mobile, Ala., and Rimann, a history/English/political science major from Round Rock, Texas, hope to follow in the footsteps of previous Southern Miss Truman scholars – Stephanie McCracken (2014), Brandon Hersey (2013), Marie Holowach Federer (2011) and Lance Brown (1999).

Recently Southern Miss has more than proven its mettle as a heavyweight contender for this elite scholarship. In the last five years, six of the University’s eight nominees have advanced to finalist status -- with three being named Truman scholars.

“Our recent success with the Truman Scholarship is one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of in my seven years at USM,” said Robyn Curtis, director, Nationally Competitive Awards at Southern Miss. “I think we are doing a great job of helping our students get the resources they need to develop their potential and that this is being recognized at the highest level.”

Named in honor of the late U.S. President Harry S. Truman, the Truman Scholarship is awarded to high-achieving college juniors. The scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study in public service fields and leadership training. The Truman Foundation reviewed 775 files from 305 institutions. The Finalist Selection Committee chose 197 students from 130 institutions. The 2016 Class of Truman Scholars will be announced on April 22.

For Hackett and Rimann, being singled out as a Truman Finalist from the hundreds of qualified applicants nationwide leaves them both a bit awe-struck.

“I was very excited after learning that I had become a finalist,” said Hackett. “There were so many other highly qualified candidates, and to believe that application reviewers saw something great in me is such a blessing. Should I obtain the Truman Scholarship, I will not only be connected with other individuals dedicated to public service, but I will also be more equipped to make a difference in the issues that inspire me most.”

“My initial reaction upon learning I had been selected as a finalist was a sense of gratitude and accomplishment,” said Rimann. “Simply being named a Truman Finalist is such a significant honor. Actually winning the scholarship would be both an incredible blessing and an incredible opportunity.”

Among his many community service pursuits, Hackett has created a mentorship program for 7th and 8th grade boys at Earl Travillion Attendance Center in Hattiesburg, and he has led voter registration and education drives over the last several years. His record has already been recognized by two other nationally competitive programs.

Last summer he was a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Summer Intern with Congresswoman Gwen Moore in Washington DC. While there he was able to gain insight into issues ranging from women’s health to secondary education funding. More recently he was selected as Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute Participant for this summer. This program is held at five different prestigious universities and is designed to give promising students who intend to pursue careers in public policy a rigorous experience analyzing and writing policy.

“Students rank their choices and Jaylen was selected to attend the program at Princeton University,” said Curtis. “Princeton was his number one choice and his selection to such a prestigious program certainly speaks well of his merit.”

A member of the Honors College and McNair Scholar, Hackett plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy with an eye on helping underprivileged students reach their full potential.

“I hope to conduct research projects geared toward closing the opportunity gap for impoverished students,” he said. “Eventually, I plan to work in various impoverished communities helping parents find financial freedom, and working to set up initiatives and program in the community to help impoverished students succeed.”

Curtis notes that Rimann is strongly passionate about the importance of humanitarian aid to Africa, especially in the form of access to medical care. Rather than go straight to college after high school, Rimann opted to take a year off as a volunteer with the non-profit organization, Mercy Ships.

“For a year JD served as a member of the crew of the Africa Mercy which offers necessary surgeries to people in Africa,” said Curtis. “This is a cause JD is deeply committed to and even after beginning his college career at Austin Community College he returned to Africa for another short term of service with Mercy Ships.”

Rimann transferred to Southern Miss in 2014 and has since become very involved in campus activities. A member of the Honors College, he has served as an officer with Students for Human Rights. He is also an ambassador for the College of Arts and Letters as well as Legislative Liaison for the Student Government Association.

After completing his undergraduate degree program, Rimann intends to seek a joint Master’s degree in African Studies and Public Health before pursuing a career working to address human rights.

“My immediate goal would be to serve as a Foreign Service Officer with either USAID (United State Agency for International Development) or the Department of State in West Africa,” said Rimann. “Long-term I would like to continue my career in public service by standing for political office in my home state of Texas.”

Students interested in applying for the Truman or other nationally competitive scholarships should contact Curtis at 601.266.4263 or