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MIT Student Wins Truman Award for Public Service Work

By Zareena Hussain
Associate news editor

While many MIT students look forward to careers as computer programmers, doctors, or research scientists, one MITstudent has chosen to devote himself to a career in public service and has won a $30,000 scholarship to help him achieve his goals.

Jacobo Orenstein-Cardona '97 is one of the recipients of this year's Truman scholarship, which are awarded by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship foundation. The foundation was established by Congress in 1975 to fund the education of students preparing for careers in government or public service.

A small fraction of the scholarship, $3,000, can be used for undergraduate study, while the rest of the award is applied to a recipients graduate education.

Orenstein-Cardona, who graduates today with degrees in history and chemistry, plans to spend the next two years teaching high school back in his home in Puerto Rico. After that, he intends to go to graduate school to study history, the political sciences, or education. After graduate school, he plans on attending law school.

While at MIT, Orenstein-Cardona progressed from wanting to be a research scientist to becoming a doctor until he decided upon his current career plan.

"I wanted to make sure that my work would address society's needs. Along the way, however, I came to realize that substantially more fundamental problems affected society which lay beyond the scope of science and medicine," Orenstein-Cardona said.

Student wants to improve society

Some of Orenstein-Cardona's greatest concerns stem from the status of underprivileged minorities in the United States.

"Discrimination and poverty prevent minority groups from being fully integrated into society and being democratically represented," Orenstein-Cardona said. "The root cause of this problem is the economic and political marginalization of minority groups in the US. Sadly, we avoid discussion about this in the media and public discourse because it challenges us as a society to grapple with difficult issues," he added.

"In deciding what to do with my life, I had to evaluate my own motivations and question what was important to me- figure out what it was that I most valued in life. The decision I have come to at least for now is to attempt to provide solutions to these problems through a career in public service," he said. "I plan on becoming involved with three things back home: public education, legislative reform, and government service. My decision to follow this path was influenced to a great extent by family members and friends already engaged in public service," he added.

Orenstein-Cardona's older sister, Aida, was awarded a Truman Scholarship in 1994.

Students aided in applying

The application process for becoming a Truman scholar begins in one's junior year. One can also apply in their senior year if there was no Truman scholar to represent the state or territory in the previous year, said Professor of History Anne McCants, a Truman Scholar and MIT's representative to the scholarship program.

Between ten and 15 MITstudents begin the application process each year, McCants said. On-campus interviews in November help select which students will be sent on for consideration by the foundation. After the on-campus interview, MIT helps students to prepare their applications to the foundation.

After the applications are reviewed, the next step in the process is a regional level interview, which requires the students to fly to their home state. After the interviews, one student is selected from each state or territory. There are also some at- large scholarships which usually are awarded to students in large states such as California, McCants said.

In order to be chosen, the Truman scholar must "in some way convey a sincere desire and a coherent plan of action to commit to a life of public service and a fairly broad sense of themselves and their place in their community," McCants said..

"The Truman scholarship seeks people with true commitment towards public service. I hope I was selected by the Truman Foundation because they perceived that commitment in me," Orenstein-Cardona said.