Rashaun Bennett '16 has received two nationally competitive fellowships that will further support his aspirations for a career in public policy. Selected from more than 600 applicants, he is among 58 winners of a Harry S. Truman Scholarship and is the fifth Davidson student to receive the award in the past eight years. He joins Richmond Blake (2008), Darrell Lamont Scott (2009), Alexandra Francis (2011) and Haley Hardie (2014).
"The Truman Scholarship makes accomplishing my dream of earning a master's degree in public policy much closer," he said. "Being a Truman Scholar increases my capacity to make a positive, impactful change through public service."
Bennett, who is a Bonner Scholar and Presidential Scholar holding the Samuel H. Bell Scholarship, has known since high school that he wanted to learn skills that would allow him to have an impact his community.
"I grew up in Charlotte, N.C., which was ranked the worst major city in the United States for economic mobility. As an instrument to my success, I consider myself a product of public service. I remember the extra mile that my eighth grade teacher took to ensure my academic success in high school and well into my time at Davidson," he said. "I also received my first internship through former Mayor Anthony Foxx's Mayor's Youth Employment Program, which connected underprivileged students to high-level internships throughout Charlotte. As a future policymaker, I want to continue the tradition of public service for all people, especially students who may not have access to the opportunities that I have had."
Bennett realized that Davidson offered the type of college environment that could support him in those aspirations.
"My experience at Davidson is constantly being shaped by historical and contemporary issues of progress and injustice," he said. "My Davidson education is equipping me to lead a life committed to change and community service."
A political science major, Bennett participated in Harvard University's Kennedy School Public Policy and Leadership Conference in February 2014. He plans to eventually design and craft education policy, but before that would like to teach or become involved in social policy research.
Bennett explored the public education system as an Education Scholar last summer. He worked under Deputy Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Ann Clark '80 to create a comprehensive overview of advanced placement classes at Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools and recommend ways to increase the number of minority students taking the classes.
"I was able to have great in-depth conversations about how the education system has evolved and to learn how complex the system is, because there are so many players involved," he said.
Bennett's convictions are born of his family's history. His grandmother and sister work in criminal justice, and many of his family and friends work as teachers, public defenders and social workers. He has recognized through them that public policy can bring positive change to people's lives. He said, "The public sector needs driven leaders who have an understanding of the issues, a tireless attitude to work to make a difference, and the ability to craft the solutions needed to enact change."
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation's living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. The Foundation has a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. The Truman award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States.
Annually, candidates for the Truman Scholarship go through a rigorous, multi-stage selection process. In 2015, there were 688 candidates for the award nominated by 297 colleges and universities. The 200 finalists for the award were interviewed in March and early April at one of 16 regional selection panels. Fifty-eight new Truman Scholars were selected in 2015. They will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on Sunday, May 24.
Recipients of the Truman Scholarship receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership.
Bennett also has received a Public Policy and International Affairs fellowship (PPIA) in public policy, public administration and international affairs, which will enroll him in an educational and developmental program that will continue from the end of his junior year this May through completion of a master's degree.
PPIA is a nonprofit organization that has been supporting efforts to increase diversity in public service for more than 30 years. PPIA believes that society is best served by public managers, policy makers, and community leaders who represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
The PPIA Fellowship will fund him this summer for seven weeks of course work in policy analysis of communications, economic policy analysis, and quantitative methods for policy analysis at the University of California at Berkeley.
Charlotte Kaufmann '18 contributed to this article.
Learn more about the Truman Scholarship Foundation and watch a video about its impact.