Established in 1975 as a living memorial to President Harry S. Truman, the prestigious scholarship includes $30,000 in graduate study funds, priority admission and supplemental financial aid at select institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and internship opportunities within the federal government.
Just 54 college juniors have been selected as Truman Scholars this year, based on leadership potential, intellectual ability, and a commitment to public service. The winners were chosen from 775 candidates nominated by 305 colleges and universities nationwide — a record number of applications and institutions.
“For an institution to have one Truman Scholar in a given year is uncommon; to have two is rare,” said Jeffrey Thibert, interim director and assistant director of national fellowships in Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE). “C.J. and Grace have demonstrated that undergraduates do not have to wait until after graduation to start engaging meaningfully with the wider world — they can become change agents now.
“We hope that their stories and successes will inspire even more of our students to think about how they can build on classroom experiences to start making change in their communities today.”
Six Notre Dame students have received the Truman Scholarship since 2010. Past winners include Alex Coccia ’14, an Africana studies and peace studies major who was later named a Rhodes Scholar; Elizabeth Davis ’12, a Program of Liberal Studies major; Puja Parikh ’11, a political science and psychology major; and Elizabeth (Simpson) Hlabse ’11, a theology and peace studies major.
Caleb “C.J.” Pine
Pine, an Arabic and peace studies major with a minor in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), hopes to pursue a graduate program at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Center. He plans to build a career working with nongovernmental organizations to improve the lives of families displaced by conflict.
“It is very encouraging that the Truman selection committee believed in me and saw my goals as aligning with their own,” he said. “And it is affirming that they appreciated the importance of the issues I am working on — namely, interfaith reconciliation and holistic responses to refugee crises in the Middle East.”
At Notre Dame, Pine organized the student advocacy group Solidarity with Syria and served as a research assistant to Rev. Daniel Groody, C.S.C., an associate professor of theology examining the theology of migration. He has also tutored Iraqi refugees in the South Bend community and worked as a conflict-resolution teacher for the Take Ten public school program.
“C.J. is a successful leader because of the depth of his convictions and his powers of persuasion,” said Joseph Buttigieg, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English and director of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program. “His effectiveness stems from his care for and attentiveness to others, the ease with which he adapts to different contexts and environments, and his respectful, unassuming demeanor. C.J. embodies the qualities of a future transformational leader.”
Pine has spent the last two summers in Jordan, where he has conducted research and worked with Road to Mafraq, an NGO that supports Syrian and Iraqi refugees. He was appointed to the organization’s board of directors in 2014.
He studied abroad in Jerusalem in spring 2015 and volunteered as an English teacher at the Palestinian Aida Refugee camp there. This semester, Pine is studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, on a Gilman Scholarship.
“Notre Dame has given me an unparalleled opportunity to develop myself alongside wonderful peers who challenge me and through experiences around the world,” he said. “Notre Dame has given me the chance to embrace the kind of person I want to be.”
Christa Grace Watkins
“I am thrilled to have been selected as a winner of the Truman Scholarship,” she said. “I am looking forward to participating in the many opportunities it offers and getting to know other Truman Scholars.”
Watkins hopes to enroll in a joint J.D./Ph.D. program and to specialize in public interest law. She has already made a measurable impact through her activism at Notre Dame, successfully campaigning for numerous policy revisions related to Title IX and mental and physical illness.
As a first-year student, she won Notre Dame’s “First Year Challenge” for her policy proposal for the student-run microloan program Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion (JIFFI) to increase resources available for women with disabilities. She is now chief operating officer and head of the legal department for the organization whose goal is to reduce the prevalence of predatory payday lending in the South Bend community.
Watkins, who is from Indiana, completed internships in summer 2014 and 2015 with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, which seeks to improve the child protection and foster care systems.
On campus, she is editor-in-chief of Discourses, the Notre Dame undergraduate philosophy journal, and a research assistant to Jaimie Bleck, an assistant professor of political science. She is a member of the Sorin Scholars Steering Committee, the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention, and co-president of College Democrats of Notre Dame.
“In an institution full of socially conscious undergraduates, Grace stands apart,” said Candida Moss, a professor of theology who co-authored a Daily Beast article with Watkins. “She is well known on campus for her work on sexual violence and women’s health, but she tackles injustice wherever she finds it, having quietly championed issues of disability and education access from behind the scenes. It is extremely gratifying to see her dedication rewarded in this way.”
Watkins hopes a graduate degree in law and philosophy will position her as a credible force for change and allow her to further study the “unexplored intersections” between philosophical topics like forgiveness and moral agency and Title IX reform.
“Without rigorous philosophical training, our policy prescriptions will be incomplete at best and harmful at worst,” she said. “Bringing the rigors of high-level academic training to bear on policy questions is my best chance to effectively advocate for substantive reform.”
Throughout the Truman Scholar application and selection process, Pine and Watkins worked closely with Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, which assists undergraduate students and alumni with national fellowship applications. Individuals interested in applying for the Truman, Rhodes, Marshall and other awards can visit cuse.nd.edu/fellowships.