Colorado State University students Francis Commercon and Kiloaulani Ka’awa Gonzales were recently named as finalists for the prestigious Truman scholarship.
Both juniors, and both Fish Wildlife and Conservation Biology majors, the pair were named finalists in recognition of their outstanding academic and service records.
The scholarship, which was founded in the name of 33rd President Harry S. Truman, only selects between 55-65 scholars yearly for work in public service and offers an award of $30,000 to the graduate institution of the recipient’s choice. Selection is extremely competitive.
“I think I heard this year they got about 750 applications from across the Nation,” Commercon said.
They are both hopeful that they will be selected for the award in the hopes of fostering successful careers in public service after graduation.
“(The scholarship) is open to all junior undergrad students so you apply early but the funding does not get released until you start your graduate school,” Ka’awa Gonzales said.
Mary Swanson, the representative on campus for the Truman scholarship, said that helping these students financially is one way to help ensure that public servants are recognized for their good deeds.
“Working in the public sector can be very challenging and the greatest rewards are almost always non-monetary,” Swanson wrote in an email to the Collegian. “The Truman Foundation provides scholars with a network of like-minded individuals who, like President Truman, understand that public service, while vital, is unglamorous work.”
For both Commercon and Ka’awa Gonzales, the scholarship funding for graduate-level education will help each student to achieve their future goals.
Ka’awa Gonzales is applying to the graduate programs at both the University of Hawaii and the University of Puerto Rico, whereas Commercon plans on applying to Cornell University. Since the application process includes a policy proposal section, both Ka’awa Gonzales and Commercon note that the process has helped them to think critically about their future goals.
Ka’awa Gonzales said that his background as a Hawaiian and Puerto-Rican student of color, as well as his leadership activities, informed his choice to focus on education and conservation after graduation.
Ka’awa Gonzales is currently: the president of the national collegiate organization MANRRS, Minorities and Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences; a resident assistant in Summit Hall; and a student coordinator for El Somos Rams, a freshman leadership retreat for Hispanic/Latino/a first-generation students. To stay sane with such a busy schedule, Ka’awa Gonzales also plays volleyball four evenings a week.
“In college, there’s one million paths you can take and one million different directions you can stretch yourself, but due to the time constraints, you’ve really got to hone in on what you want,” Ka’awa Gonzales said. “For me, it’s been about understanding that what I’m doing in undergraduate school is just laying the foundation for my future.”
For Commercon, who is completing an honors thesis project on biodiversity in Southeast Asia, his experience abroad helped direct him towards his passion of helping developing countries in wildlife conservation efforts.
In addition to his major in Fish Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Commercon also has a double major in Biological Science with a minor in Chinese.
Commercon traveled to China where he served as a main point of contact between a non-profit conservation organization and the local people.
Additionally, Commercon teaches English to students in China via webcam, studies Mandarin rigorously and helped to found the CSU Field Ornithologists club, which brings together a group of student bird-watchers on weekends.
He said that the Truman scholarship application process challenged him to apply his skills in a new way, because he had never written a policy proposal before, and it forced him to look at conservation with a broader approach.
“(Before), all I had been thinking about is the conservation project like, ‘How do we get on the ground here and reduce illegal hunting of this animal?’ Or, ‘We need to stop deforestation over here,’—But, it made me take a step back and look at the larger picture,” Commercon said. “(The policy) creates a better environment for those kinds of non-profits to work.”
Though the Truman scholarship is particularly competitive, Swanson said she has high hopes for both Ka’awa Gonzales and Commercon.
“The Truman Foundation often states it would give scholarships to every finalist if it could and is regretful it must choose between students,” Swanson said. “That said, I think our students are the very best and I hope they win.”
Collegian Managing Editor Mikaela Rodenbaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikarodenbaugh.