Student receives coveted scholarship

Lucas Kunach

Former President Harry Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
University senior Katy Backes has proven that if you stay in the kitchen, you can do more than stand the heat. You can also make a difference. She was recently named a recipient of the 1998 Truman Scholarship.
“Katy is a leader with just the right mix of idealism and down-to-earth good sense to be an outstanding change agent,” said Sally Lieberman, assistant academic adviser in the College of Liberal Arts Honors Division. “I think that she represents the commitment, energy and intelligence that leads so many U of M students to become involved in political activism and community service.”
Sponsored by the Truman Foundation, Backes is one of 79 students to receive the $30,000 scholarship. The national competition recognizes college juniors for displaying superior public service as well as a desire to become a “change agent” in their future pursuits.
“It is so easy to stay in your comfort zone, but it is so rewarding to push the limits,” Backes said. “I would encourage everyone to take a little time to do something for someone else. Do the AIDS Walk with your friends, call the Red Cross, paint your grandma’s house, serve meals to the homeless.”
Truman Scholar applicants must bring a high level of overall achievement to the process. The primary criteria for selection requires a high level of campus and community service, as well as a strong academic record inside the classroom to complement what is learned in the outside world.
Applicants must also be able to exercise strong communication skills and a commitment to a career in government or nonprofit and advocacy sectors.
“Many times very strong U of M students don’t recognize that they have a shot at a highly competitive scholarship like this, but they do,” said Gordon Hirsch, director of the CLA Honors Division and Backes’ faculty representative.
Since coming to the University, Backes has volunteered in organizations across the board. Among other things, she has taught English as a second language at Chicanos Latinos Unido en Servivcio, was a member of Amnesty International, worked on a political campaign and was involved in the University’s International Studies Association. Additionally, Backes spent time in Merida, Venezuela as part of a study abroad program.
“Volunteering gives you energy. Doing something for the good of humanity will make you feel good,” Backes said. “There are thousands of opportunities passed by while U of M students sit on their couches and watch re-runs of ‘Friends.'”
Backes is currently working on an internship with the Red Cross in Washington, D.C.