AUTHOR: GINN

HED:MSU earns top scholarship nod

By Jennifer Ginn

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University joined a list of distinguished universities Friday that have produced the most Truman National Scholarship winners.

Truman Scholarships are $30,000 awards for the highest-achieving students who demonstrate leadership potential and a desire to do public service. In the past 18 years, MSU has had 14 winners.

Because of the high rate of winners and the school's support of the program, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation presented the university with the Truman Honor Institution Award.

Only SEC school

Louis Blair, executive secretary for the Washington, D.C.-based foundation, said Mississippi State is the only school in the Southeastern Conference ever to receive the award.

Four other schools - Columbia University, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago and Claremont McKenna College in California - also were honored this year.

Dartmouth topped the list of honorees with 16 scholars.

"I think they're keeping some very good company," joked MSU President Malcolm "Mack" Portera. "I think this demonstrates a couple of things. The first is the quality of students that are attracted to Mississippi State.

"The second is the faculty. You don't proceed through this process without a strong faculty and commitment. To have 14 Truman Scholars in the last 18 years is nothing short of phenomenal."

Blair said the spirit of community involvement and service on campus is what has made MSU a success.

"I've been in the last nine years on 170 campuses," Blair said. "Every campus is special, appealing and unique. What really strikes me about Mississippi State is the public service values that are embedded here.

"It's terrific. No institution south of North Carolina or east of Arizona has done anything else like this. But the award is for more than just about numbers. It's more about exciting young people."

Life-changing experience

Scott Ross, a West Point lawyer, was Mississippi State's first Truman Scholar in 1980.

He also was one of the youngest legislators ever when elected at 22 to the state House of Representatives.

The scholarship money, used to fund graduate studies, allowed him to study law at the University of Mississippi and not worry about finances.

During one summer break, he was able to work on a political campaign rather than working to pay for tuition.

"I think it reinforced my commitment to public service," Ross said. "I knew I was interested in public service at the time. It reinforced my beliefs and gave me the opportunity to have a little more financial freedom.

"I think it (the award) is a tribute to the commitment of the faculty on this campus, particularly the political science department. I could count at least three, four, maybe five faculty members here today who helped me win."

MSU chooses one faculty member who recruits and supports likely candidates for the Truman Scholars program. The professor also helps guide students through the lengthy application process.

A monumental moment

With the recognition, Portera said the university plans to continue its work to produce more Truman Scholars.

"I think this is one of the greatest moments in the life of this university," he said. "It's the product of almost two decades of sustained effort. Our motto at this university is, 'We will not be out-worked by anybody.'"

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