Emory’s first Truman scholarship recipient since 2011, Chelsea Jackson (18C) was one of 62 students nationwide to receive the award, Director of the National Scholarships and Fellowships Program Megan Friddle said. The award is granted to students who have demonstrated a commitment to public service from a young age, according to an April 12 Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation press release.
Jackson will receive $30,000 from the Foundation for graduate school and professional development in the field of public service, Friddle said.
A political science and African American studies double major, Jackson said she utilizes the experience from her courses to advance racial and social justice through her activism on campus and in the greater Atlanta area.
When University President Claire E. Sterk called her to Sterk’s office told her she had won the award, Jackson said she was “overwhelmed with excitement.”
Jackson has served on the executive board for the Emory’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and as a co-founder of Atlanta Black Students United, a coalition of black college students in Atlanta. She has also been involved with the Commission on Racial and Social Justice to create Emory’s vision for racial and social equity and as a Diversity Initiatives Fellow for Emory’s Office of Admission to plan events to recruit students of color to Emory.
Jackson said she believes she stood out from other Truman scholar applicants because while others may have similar grades and test scores, she has shown compassion through her activism. In 2015, Jackson contributed ideas and support to the demands made by the student group Black Students of Emory, who called for “an active change in University policy directed towards Black students.”
Jackson described her passion for being a vocal advocate for social change.
“I really look at leadership and public service from an activist standpoint,” Jackson said. “I like to think, ‘How can you make the world better? … What kind of legacy of love do you leave for the people that come behind you?’ ”
Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory, said that “what [Jackson] does as an activist and what she does as a student are intimately tied to each other.”
Gillespie serves as one of Jackson’s major advisors and wrote a letter of recommendation for Jackson’s application.
Friddle noted that Jackson’s activism matches well with the qualities the Foundation seeks.
“The Truman scholarship … rewards students who have a genuine commitment to improving their communities regardless of their political or ideological affiliations,” Friddle said.
The foundation reviewed 768 applications from 315 institutions this application cycle, according to its website.
Emory can nominate up to seven students to compete for the scholarship at the national level, four of whom matriculate on the Atlanta campus and three of whom are transfer students or Oxford College graduates, Friddle said. A committee of Emory faculty members and individuals from offices engaged with student leadership activities, such as Campus Life and the Center for Ethics reviewed the applications to choose which students to nominate for the scholarship. This year, Emory nominated six students: two transfer and Oxford College graduate applicants and four applicants from the Atlanta campus.
Jackson said she hopes that the scholarship will allow her pursue a career as a civil rights attorney and eventually as a supreme court justice.
“I like to aim high, and I like to push myself,” Jackson said. “People might think it’s a lofty goal to say ‘I want to be attorney general’ or ‘I want to be a Supreme Court justice,’ but for me those are attainable goals if I just stay true to myself and continue to work hard.”
Gillespie agreed that the award will help Jackson prepare for her future aspirations.
“[Jackson] really does epitomize what the award is about,” Gillespie said. “Of all the people I know who have won the award, she best captures the spirit of a Truman scholar. This [award] not only celebrates the work she has done but will also help to prepare for the work I know she is poised to do in the future.”
Alex Klugerman and Richard Chess contributed reporting.