U junior wins Truman Scholarship for service

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

When David Simon was 16, he dreamed about being an attorney like the Mitchell McDeere or Adam Hall characters in John Grisham novels.

That ideology changed after he took a postsecondary international relations class at Moorhead State University and realized his interests were much broader.

Instead of thinking about law school, Simon said, he started to ask himself which area of the world, issues and language he wanted to study.

This curiosity led the University junior to spend much of his collegiate years abroad, studying different fields. Now his hard work is being rewarded, as Simon has been named a Truman Scholar for 2002-03.

Simon was checking his e-mail at an Internet cafe on the Red Square in Moscow, where he was studying abroad, when he found out he had made it through the first round of Truman Scholar applicants.

“When I found out I was a finalist, I was jumping up and down,” he said. “I think I e-mailed everyone I know.”

Simon, who studies Russian, political science and global studies, has worked in London for the British House of Commons, researched national missile defense at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City and worked on a project at the Moscow bureau of The New York Times.

But he hasn’t decided what he wants to do once he graduates. Law school, working in the State Department or an appointment to the Cabinet in the future are just a few of the options he’s considering.

“I don’t have a set career goal,” he said. “I think of it as a process. What will I enjoy doing?”

The Truman Scholarship – which boasts 600 applicants and approximately 75 recipients each year – is a national award started by Congress in 1975 to honor former President Harry Truman.

Each scholar receives $3,000 to cover his or her senior year and $27,000 to use toward graduate school, said Louis Blair, Truman Foundation executive secretary.

“We’re looking for people with passion, ideas and energy,” Blair said. “We look at people who have had two or more years sustained involvement in committed service, leadership roles and records of accomplishment.”

In his first two years at the University, Simon worked to establish the Russian Club and the Parliamentary Debate Society, while participating in University politics as a College of Liberal Arts senator and Minnesota Student Association representative.

“I did all those things with the idea that they would help me get into law school,” he said. “But I think the things I was doing were more important than getting into law school.”

Simon, who says he hasn’t stayed in the same place for more than five months since starting college, submitted a seven-page Truman Foundation application and went through a series of interviews before the final decision was made.

Along with the scholarship money, applicants also receive a summer internship with the U.S. State Department.

For Simon, the money is not the best part of the experience.

The application process, he said, forced him to think about issues affecting the world and his future.

“The money doesn’t matter much to me. The important thing is the Truman Foundation makes me a part of their community,” he said. “In my sophomore year when other people were worrying about their majors, I spent a lot of time thinking about graduate school and what I want to do. This scholarship has given me a roadmap.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]