Junior Rebecca Blais awarded 2017 Truman Scholarship

Author: Carrie Gates

Becca BlaisBecca Blais

University of Notre Dame junior Rebecca Blais, a political science major from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, has been named a 2017 Truman Scholar.

Blais is one of just 62 college juniors to be selected for the prestigious scholarship this year, from a pool of 768 candidates nominated by 315 colleges and universities nationwide. The winners were chosen based on their leadership potential, intellectual ability and commitment to public service.

Established in 1975 as a living memorial to President Harry S. Truman, the award includes $30,000 in graduate study funds, priority admission and supplemental financial aid at select institutions, as well as leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and internship opportunities within the federal government.

“I am incredibly honored to receive this scholarship,” Blais said. “The thought of working with the support of the Truman Foundation in a career of public service is both encouraging and exciting. I am sincerely looking forward to having the chance to get to know such inspired, passionate people who are dedicated to helping others.”

Seven students in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters have been named Truman Scholars since 2010, including two winners in 2016Arabic and peace studies major Caleb “C.J.” Pine and philosophy major Christa Grace Watkins. Other previous winners include Alex Coccia, class of 2014, an Africana studies and peace studies major; Elizabeth Davis, class of ’12, a Program of Liberal Studies major; Puja Parikh, class of ’11, a political science and psychology major; and Elizabeth (Simpson) Hlabse, class of ’11, a theology and peace studies major. Watkins and Coccia have also gone on to win Rhodes Scholarships.

“Notre Dame’s continuing success with the Truman Scholarship is a result of our consistently outstanding applicant pool of juniors who are not waiting until after graduation to begin their work as change agents,” said Jeffrey Thibert, associate director of the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE). “Becca exemplifies this. She has already left a lasting mark on the University, and the financial support and mentoring offered through the Truman Scholarship will help her expand her capability for impact to the national or even international stage.”

Blais, who has a minor in peace studies, is deeply involved in student government, working to build a stronger relationship with the administration and to enact many policy changes related to diversity, inclusion, and Title IX.

She was recently elected student body president for the 2017–18 academic year, after completing a term as vice president this year. She has also served as a member of the Election Committee for the Judicial Council and as director of internal affairs.

Blais has traveled extensively as an undergraduate, accompanying a Notre Dame faculty delegation to Bangladesh this spring to visit a new partner university in Dhaka.

Last summer, she participated in the Center for Social Concerns’ international summer service learning program in China, where she taught English and researched human rights. And in summer 2015, with funding from CUSE, she conducted independent research in Sri Lanka on elephant conservation efforts.

She has also participated in an immersion course in Ireland, led a student group to West Virginia to build homes with Habitat for Humanity, and backpacked in India and Ireland.

On campus, Blais is a Dean’s Fellow in the College of Arts and Letters, a member of the Committee on Women Faculty and Students and the Committee for Sexual Assault Prevention, and a tour guide for the Office of Admissions.

She has volunteered at a local homeless shelter, worked as a notetaker for disabled students, led campus blood drives, and served as vice president of Be The Match On Campus — a nonprofit advocacy group for the national bone marrow donor registry.

“Becca is committed to integral human development broadly and has been an active leader on campus for initiatives and activities commensurate with those ideals,” said Sara Sievers, associate dean for policy and practice in the Keough School of Global Affairs. “These activities all combine to paint a portrait of a student with natural leadership instincts which are channeled to public service and the social good, in ways large and small.”

After graduation, Blais plans to attend law school and hopes to someday work as an attorney at the Department of Justice, focusing on issues related to women’s health care, education and Title IX.

“My liberal arts education at Notre Dame has challenged me to look beyond the immediate and think critically about the community around me — whether that is my community on campus, at home, or elsewhere in the world,” Blais said. “Through Arts and Letters, I have learned effective strategies to be an active change agent and to think outside of the traditional. These lessons guide me as I begin this new experience.”

Throughout the Truman Scholar application and selection process, Blais worked closely with Notre Dame’s Flatley 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 the CUSE website.