Utah State University Student Awarded Prestigious Truman Scholarship
Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2016
"Wow! I am still trembling," was Madelyn Fife's reaction when USU President Stan Albrecht told her she had been named a 2016 Truman Scholar.
President Stan Albrecht congratulated Fife as a recipient of the $30,000 Harry S. Truman scholarship. The junior, who has a double major in political science and economics, is one of 54 students from across the United States to receive the honor.
For only the fourth time in 36 years, a Utah State University student has been selected to receive the Harry S. Truman scholarship.
Madelyn Fife, a junior in political science and economics, is one of 54 students from across the United States announced April 20 as a 2016 Truman Scholar. Her research about educational equity in American schools helped her win the coveted $30,000 scholarship. She competed against 775 applicants from 305 institutions, a record number of applications and institutions.
The Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 as a living memorial to the 33rd president. At the heart of the foundation is selecting and supporting the next generation of public service leaders. Over the past four decades, the Truman award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the country.
It is the kind of recognition that would make any university president proud, and USU President Stan Albrecht was no exception. He got to break the news to Fife by calling her into his office. She went there under the premise she had to sign a travel authorization form. The request was unusual, but since it was coming from Kristine Miller, director of USU Honors Program, she dutifully complied.
“I totally believed them,” she said. “I didn’t think they were going to take me in the president’s office and tell me I won. Wow! I am still trembling.”
No pressure though, except for maybe that little declaration Miller made at the onset of her introduction to the president.
“She wants to change the world,” Miller told Albrecht. “She wants to and she’s going to.”
That is a tall order, but within a few minutes of listening in on Fife’s conversation with the president as she talked about her project’s focus on using disparate impact theory to enforce anti-discrimination laws in public schools, one realized the plausibility of Miller’s prediction.
Months earlier, Miller spoke in similar glowing terms of Briana Bowen who, in 2013, was the first USU female student awarded the Truman Scholarship and the first recipient in 29 years. Both these young women exude quiet confidence and tremendous passion for making a real difference in the world, which also happens to be a cornerstone statement of the Truman Foundation. Today Bowen is studying at Oxford University in Russian and East European studies that will eventually lead to work in national security.
The 21-year-old Fife has had her eye on law ever since she graduated from Logan High School in 2013. Her plan is to become an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice where she will focus on the intersection of law and education. She wants to be on the front line of change in the way schools discipline students.
Her own anecdotal experiences in high school sparked her interest in school discipline reform. She noticed by her senior year that many of the Hispanic classmates who started high school with her were no longer attending. Their absence raised some red flags. Only later did she learn that school suspensions and expulsions are linked to students dropping out altogether. The numbers alone seemed too great to be coincidental.
“Broadly, I get infuriated, whether it’s blatant or more unintentional in nature, to see inequality and injustice,” she said. “It makes your palms tingle. You want to do something.”
It was early on at USU that she began her research. She started looking up Civil Rights Data Collection numbers on her own high school after learning that federal law mandates equality in how students are treated in public schools. What she saw were clearly different outcomes for students on the basis of race under the school’s disciplinary procedures. As she further delved, she found the problem to be systemic and widespread among minority groups across the nation, and much of it tied to zero-tolerance policies.
“We want people to go to school and have an education and be productive members of society,” she said. “We don’t want them pushed toward crime, drugs and substance abuse. I don’t think administrators are out to get any specific group, but this is happening and something needs to be done. We need to look for a less exclusionary approach to discipline and more ways to keep kids in school.”
In the meantime, she is doing all she can mentoring and tutoring underrepresented high school students. On top of this, she keeps busy as an Honors Program student, Huntsman Scholar and a Jon M. Huntsman School of Business Ambassador. She serves on the USU Student Advisory Board for the Institute of Government and Politics, and is a research assistant in political science and a teaching assistant for the Huntsman School of Business.
“We’re very proud of you,” Albrecht told her. “This is a great accomplishment, and it is an honor for the university as well.”
Miller, who helped guide Fife through the arduous preparations and interviews leading up to the award, called Fife an exemplary USU Honors student.
“Her double major demonstrates an ability to think deeply and critically across disciplines, and her research about educational equity in American schools is both insightful and civically engaged,” she said. “As an articulate, thoughtful young scholar who is truly committed to making the world a better place, she embodies the principles of public-service leadership that are central to the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.”
And just like Truman, who rose from the status of underdog to victor in the 1948 U.S. presidential campaign, Fife said she also relishes the role as a Truman Scholar representing Utah State University.
“People don’t realize how much USU has to offer its students and because of that you may be an underdog until you show people who aren’t familiar with the university that you are competent,” she said. “And I’m okay with being an underdog and proving my merit to people.”
And along the way, changing the world.
Contact: Dr. Kristine Miller, 435-797-3637; Kristine.firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: John DeVilbiss, 435-797-1358; email@example.com