Two Harvard College students were awarded the Truman Scholarship — an honor recognizing leadership, commitment to a career in public service, and academic excellence — according to a press release issued last week.
Amisha A. Kambath ’22 and Oksanna A. Samey ’23 were among the 58 aspiring public service leaders from 53 colleges and universities nationwide who received the distinction this year. The Truman scholars will be awarded $30,000 in funding for post-graduate studies, along with leadership training, career counseling, and special employment opportunities within the federal government, per the scholarship’s website.
A Social Studies concentrator in Dunster House, Kambath said she knew since arriving at the College that she wanted to enter the legal profession. She tailored her extracurriculars around this interest, getting involved with the Harvard College Project for Justice and the Institute of Politics. Kambath has also conducted research with Harvard Kennedy School professor Sandra Susan Smith.
Kambath credited her exposure to the criminal justice system, including a summer internships at the public defender’s office in Washington D.C. and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for helping her more clearly envision how she wants to move forward in her career.
“[These intern experiences] helped me have a much clearer conception of where I wanted to position myself and how I want to position myself in terms of working to change the criminal legal system and kind of the landscape economic opportunity around it,” she said. “So I think that — if I had to guess — paid off pretty well in the application.”
Kambath added that the process of putting together the Truman application was “really wonderful” because it allowed her to reflect on her various roles and research experiences at Harvard.
“I just think the mode of engaging with the application and the Truman process — like what it kind of pulled out of me — is something that I’m really, really appreciative of,” she said.
Kambath said she plans to use the funding for law school and is “strongly considering” pursuing a Ph.D.
Samey — an Integrative Biology concentrator in Mather House — said the scholarship validated her “more unconventional route” to public service.
Samey, who hails from Minneapolis, worked with grassroots activists during the pandemic to deliver wellness supplies to residents in her hometown who could not access grocery stores due to health concerns and the murder of George Floyd. She said the experience contributed to her understanding that public service is “fluid.”
“All that you really need to impact the community around you is a desire to do so,” Samey said. “You don’t need permission from academic credentials or from the place that you’re employed to determine whether or not you can actually impact your community.”
Samey also cited her research in Covid-19 vaccine credential hesitancy, in which she investigated how different identities correlated with distrust in healthcare infrastructure. She said the experience highlighted why public service initiatives should include the perspectives of the people they aim to help.
“Looking at that information really showed how people are informed by their circumstances,” she said.
Samey added that she was able to apply the lessons from her research to her work as the inaugural diversity and inclusion officer and second-ever Black chief of CrimsonEMS, Harvard’s student-run emergency medical service. Within the group, she has focused on initiatives to increase patient agency and decrease bias.
“That made up a lot of who I am and how I view medicine, how I view public health and public service,” she said.
Samey said she plans to use the scholarship to pursue an MD/MPH and hopes to work on bridging access gaps and mitigate racialized disparities in healthcare through a career in preventative care.
“For me, it was really influential to win the Truman Scholarship, because it shows that there’s more than one route towards public service in a way that I wasn’t able to conceptualize before,” she said.
—Staff writer Carrie Hsu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.