When a student's phone rings in the middle of Spanish class, President Barry Mills usually is not on the other line. But for Kyle Dempsey '11 on Monday, he was. Mills was calling to inform Dempsey he had been named a 2010 Truman Scholar, the first Bowdoin student to be awarded the honor since 2003.
The award was not the only Bowdoin success over the past several weeks; Sarah Ebel '10 and Skye Lawrence '10 both received Watson fellowships at the beginning of Spring Break.
"Probably the Rhodes and the Marshall are considered the most prestigious [fellowships]," Director of Student Fellowships and Research Cindy Stocks said. "The Truman is really in that same orbit."
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation provides up to $30,000 toward graduate study, and is given annually to 60 college juniors nationwide. Dempsey said he was unsure what his direct path will be, though he speculated that he likely will go to medical school for several years before taking a year off to study public health.
Dempsey was more certain about the issues he hopes to tackle. According to Dempsey, roughly 10 percent of Caucasians lack health insurance in the U.S., compared to 25 percent of blacks and 32 percent of Hispanics.
"If you don't have health insurance, you're not going to go to the doctor unless you have a very serious issue," Dempsey said. "If you lack insurance you lack access to health care. It seems kind of crazy to me that we would let such a huge disparity exist."
Dempsey said that it was Stocks who originally contacted him about the Truman Fellowship, and, after some convincing, decided to apply. Stocks said Dempsey worked incessantly on his application.
"It was something like eight to ten drafts of the entire application," Dempsey said.
Two weeks earlier on March 12, Sarah Ebel '10 and Skye Lawrence '10 received e-mails announcing they had been awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. The fellowship provides $25,000 to pay for "travel and exploration" for one year, with the only stipulation being that the fellows do not reenter the U.S. during that time.
Ebel's proposal focused on the global landscape for fisheries. Ebel will be observing "collapsing fisheries;" in other words, fisheries that once supported a community but because of over-fishing, increased coastal development or other factors, no longer are able to. Ebel said she intends to travel to Belize, Argentina, New Zealand and Tanzania to observe how local non-profits and fishermen are dealing with these issues.
"My idea is that I live in a hostel until someone takes me in, and then I can work with the fisherman," Ebel said.
Ebel said she hopes to return to fisheries in Maine after her year away to try and put into practice some of the methods she will have learned abroad.
"Each place has a specific different problem, that all happen in Maine," she said.
Stocks was incredibly confident in Ebel's ability to succeed.
"Sarah has this infectious can-do spirit, and comes across as somebody who, once she sets her mind to something, is going to make it happen, despite what obstacles she might encounter or have to overcome," Stocks said.
Lawrence's project is based on implementation of global health plans, particularly based on cultural effects.
"A lot of times they are not implemented correctly," Lawrence said. "I want to see why that is."
"I want to go to five totally different cultures, see how they may be effective and how they may be falling short. [And] if those techniques can be applied cross-culturally," Lawrence added.
Lawrence's Watson trip will take her to Peru, Guatemala, Tanzania, Thailand and Morocco.
Stocks said Lawrence was a perfect fit for the Watson program.
"Skye just had a long track record of being engaged in public health projects, she brought a lot of hands-on experience to the project, and it was clear because she had invested so much time and energy on her own accord, that this truly was a passion of hers," Stocks said. "And Watson wants to see passion."
"I've always been pretty interested in public health," Lawrence said. "Starting in middle school I went to Honduras, and I found a lot of people suffering from preventable illnesses."
Lawrence later received a grant in high school to go back to Honduras to build 30 stoves for families to use.
Stocks said the Watson was different from most other fellowships because only 40 schools, Bowdoin included, are allowed to submit applications.
"It's a great opportunity that Bowdoin students have that many, many other schools don't have an opportunity to apply for," Stocks said.
Each of the 40 schools submits up to four finalists to Watson, and then 40 overall fellows are chosen from that group of up to 160 final applicants. This is the first year Bowdoin has received two Watson's since the 2006-07 academic year. Bowdoin has had nine Watson fellows over the last seven years.