3 Washington University Students Named Truman Scholarship Finalists

Juniors Amelia Letson, Logan Flori, and Isaac Seiler (left to right) have been named finalists for the Truman Scholarship for public service (Bri Nitsburg | Student Life)

Logan Flori, Isaac Seiler, and Amelia Letson, juniors at Washington University, have been named finalists for the coveted Truman Scholarship for Public Service, which awards up to $30,000 to students pursuing graduate or professional degrees.

The students each received one of the University’s five nominations, and they were chosen as three of the 193 finalists from over 800 candidates from across the nation. The application procedure required them to envisage their futures and develop a policy plan to address a subject that they are passionate about. As finalists, the three were flown to various places to meet the other contenders and be questioned.

Flori, whose application focused on jail incarceration and pretrial detention, stated that her time working in the civil litigation department of St. Louis law firm Arch City Defenders exposed her to the inequities that exist in the correctional system.

“My first day, I sat down, and they said, ‘Can you check this video footage?’ I was simply seeing a bunch of guys get beaten. “I went home and cried that day,” Flori explained. “I just started to develop a passion for the general goal of seeing incarcerated people as people rather than the dehumanized labels of ‘criminal,’ ‘inmate,’ ‘offender,’ that they are usually labeled with —especially pretrial detainees who are not necessarily even guilty of the crime they’ve committed yet.”

Seiler, who attended Calvin University for two years before transferring, focused his application on tax enforcement for religious non-profit organizations. Seiler opted to quit Calvin after a professor was dismissed for officiating a same-sex wedding, and he took a year off to supervise digital operations for a congressional campaign, eventually becoming the youngest person to serve as Director of Communications on Capitol Hill.

Seiler stated that his experience at his old school, a religious 501(c)3 institution, influenced his policy proposal.

“When the University began to participate in discriminatory activity, like firing faculty for supporting LGBTQ+ students, I began to think about the role that religious nonprofits play in the U.S.,” he stated.

He stated that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) now conducts just a small number of inquiries into the country’s 1.4 million religious 501(c)3s.

“That needs to change,” Seiler stated. “My policy proposal is, I believe, the first step in the right direction; it closes enforcement loopholes for organizations already breaking U.S. tax law.”

Letson’s proposal offered a new inclusive trauma-informed sex education program for Missouri public schools, which was consistent with her overall focus in reproductive rights. Letson, co-president of WashU’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action and an intern at Abortion Action in Missouri, said her public service work is focused on the communities she serves.

“The most essential thing for me was to get off campus and truly engage with the St. Louis community. Working with [Abortion Action] made me feel like I was a part of St. Louis and lived there rather than just at WashU,” Letson said. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, I’m in St. Louis for four years,’ but I was like, ‘I’m living in St. Louis right now.'”

Flori, Seiler, and Letson have heard Assistant Dean of Advising Brooke Taylor state, “the prize is in the process.” Taylor, who advises students interested in applying for external scholarships, said she emphasized on this message while working with them to ensure they understood the personal benefits of going through an application process like this one.

All three finalists have realized the reality of this remark, with Flori stating that the application accelerated the process of developing a plan for her life after college.

“They kind of pose it as a thought experiment; they make you pick a grad school that you want to go to; they make you pick exactly what you’re going to do after that grad school; they make you say what your dream job is,” Florida said. “They recognize that even if that doesn’t play out, it’s really valuable to see how candidates think.”

Taylor explained that completing this practice far before graduation allows students to break down their dreams step by step.

“The Truman asks you to not just imagine it but to really follow the path of, ‘If this is my ultimate goal, what are the concrete steps I would have to do to get there,'” Taylor went on to say. “Doing that in your junior year, whether or not they ended up becoming a finalist, empowers them.”

This technique helped Letson identify the aspects of a future in public policy that are most important to her.

“I knew I was really passionate about reproductive rights, but it helped me think a little bit more clearly about what that might look like for me in the future in terms of pursuing a career in public policy,” said Letson. “Connecting with my community and engaging with grassroots organizations has been extremely influential for me during my time at WashU.

According to Seiler, being a finalist is only a “added side benefit,” with the main merit being the voyage.

“Through this process, I’ve learnt to talk more about myself. I’ve learnt how to talk about my interests. At this point, obviously, receiving the scholarship would be fantastic, but I feel like I’ve already learned so much from the process,” Seiler said.

Taylor believes that the finalists demonstrate intelligence, drive, and leadership, all of which will contribute to their future success, whether or not they are chosen.

“They are all well-positioned to make significant changes. “That’s part of what makes it so inspiring,” Taylor explained. “Sometimes the political landscape can feel sort of bleak, but working with students like this gives me hope for what could change as the next generation comes into their own.”

On April 19, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation will reveal the 55-65 awardees.

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