From supporting local businesses to child soccer players with disabilities, Robert W. Woodruff Scholar Josh Kaplan (21C) has served the Emory and greater Atlanta community throughout his three years as an Emory student. On April 15, Kaplan was selected from a national pool of 773 candidates as an award recipient for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.
The Truman Scholarship, instated in 1975, awards students who have displayed commitment to public service and bettering the lives of those around them with $30,000 to fund their post-undergraduate education. Kaplan, along with 61 other college students nationwide, received the honor.
The Phoenix native arrived at Emory with a strong interest in social and economic justice. Kaplan was particularly interested in Brazil, due to the country’s “critical role in environmental regulation and economic production,” and ultimately decided to double major in economics and Portuguese.
“My interest is … how we can leverage policy to promote sustainable economic growth while also addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality,” Kaplan wrote in an email to the Wheel. “We need experts who understand [Latin America’s] unique development challenges.”
Kaplan’s interest and commitment to pursuing economic justice in Latin America was solidified after a 2016 summer study abroad trip to São Paulo, Brazil, where he studied Portuguese and Brazilian Cultural Imaginaries at the University of São Paulo.
“Through site visits to campamentos run by rural landless workers, guest lectures from indigenous activists, and weekend trips to cities beyond São Paulo, this class opened my eyes to the specific development challenges facing Brazil, and inspired me to continue studying how marginalized groups contribute to economic growth in Brazil,” Kaplan wrote.
Spanish and Portuguese Professor Ana Catarina Teixeira, who served as both a professor and mentor to Kaplan, said that the program was formative and challenging for Kaplan. She noted that he excelled in the program, and complimented his intelligence and ambition.
“The first [characteristic] that comes to mind is that he’s an intellectually curious person, always wants to know more, always asking questions and second, he’s driven,” Texeira said. “He sees where he wants to go, and he will put forth the effort to get there. He’s very meticulous, he’s very committed to excellence.”
Outside of the classroom, Kaplan was an active member of his community, before and after arriving at Emory. Kaplan utilized the knowledge he gained through his economics courses to expand further upon the club he founded in high school called GOALS, which, as a nonprofit soccer program for kids with intellectual disabilities, continues to flourish today.
He splits his time between Consult Your Community, an organization that provides free consulting services to Atlanta minority-owned nonprofits and small businesses, and Plan International, an organization that advocates for children’s rights and gender equality through the help of other youth activists around the world.
Rhea Hebbar (20B), president of Emory Consult Your Community and Kaplan’s friend, described him as “passionate, hardworking and inspirational.” Hebbar noted that despite Kaplan’s success and many accomplishments, he remains humble.
“What really stands out to me about him is that his goals are always about making his community and the world a better place,” Hebbar said. “When you really take the time to see everything he has done since being at Emory, it’s hard not to be inspired by him.”
For Kaplan, it is the culmination of his many experiences and accomplishments as an Emory student that made him discover his passion for his post-graduation goals: facilitating “systems-level change,” which he believes is important for economic growth in Latin America.
“Grassroots community development is vital to economic growth, but we need actors at every level that are working with communities to drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” Kaplan wrote.
Kaplan hopes to continue on his path by pursuing concurrent master’s degrees in international economics and Latin American studies with the help of the Truman award. Afterwards, he aims to advance economic development in Latin America and beyond through government work.
“[I] eventually see myself working with the U.S. Department of State as an expert in Latin American development, creating economic policies that promote social equity for marginalized populations,” Kaplan said. “I cannot wait to pursue a career after graduation that allows me to leverage economic policy to affect social change in Latin America and beyond.”
As he works to serve his community and the world around him, Kaplan said he draws his inspiration from Tikkun Olam, a Jewish concept passed down from his parents, which means “repairing the world.”
“Tikkun Olam is what grounds me in optimism and challenges me not just to see the world but to participate meaningfully in it. [It’s] at the core of my understanding of public service,” Kaplan wrote. “[It] doesn’t require us to fix everything, but instead to do what we can to impact what’s within our reach. It encourages us to leave our piece of the world, no matter how small that piece may be, better than how we found it.”