Prestigious Truman Scholarship awarded to Coe junior

2018-04-13 11:46:33 - Feature

Kelly May
Kelly May

Coe College junior Kelly May is one of only 59 students nationwide chosen to receive a 2018 Truman Scholarship. Created in honor of the nation's 33rd president, the Truman award is one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States.

May will receive $30,000 toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to prepare for a career in public service leadership.

The mission of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation is to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. Annually, candidates for the Truman Scholarship go through a rigorous, multistage selection process. This year, 756 candidates were nominated for the award by 311 colleges and universities, a record number of institutions. The 194 finalists for the award recently were interviewed at one of 16 regional selection panels.

Two of the three Truman Scholar finalists from Iowa this year are Coe students, and May was the only Iowa student to receive the award. The last Kohawk honored as a Truman Scholar was Vaughn Vance in 1993.

May, a Cedar Rapids native, is an English major with a minor in philosophy. During his sophomore year, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Paula O'Loughlin strongly encouraged May to apply for the Truman, as it is designated for students interested in public service — something May is passionate about. It also is one of the few competitive national fellowships students can apply for during their junior year of study.

"The application process was extremely rigorous. It's comprised of seven essays plus a policy proposal," May said. "It took six months of my life, and it was harder than any class I've ever taken."

May plans to apply to a graduate program in educational policy at the University of Washington in Seattle. When he graduates from Coe in May 2019, the Truman Scholarship provides the opportunity to complete a six-month to one-year internship in Washington, D.C., at the federal agency of his choice. May will apply to work in the policy branch at the Department of Education.

May has immersed himself in the Coe experience, with a great deal of involvement both on and off campus. He co-founded the Enactus group, serving in many leadership roles including as president. May also serves as president of the Coe College Student Education Association and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. In the Coe Writing Center, May serves as a writing consultant. He also serves as a resident assistant on campus and at the Willis Dady Shelter and volunteers as an English language tutor at the Catherine McAuley Center.

In the Coe Office of Community Engagement, May serves as an advocate, connecting fellow Kohawks to service-learning opportunities. Currently, he is involved in the AmeriCorps I-CAP program, in which he has committed 300 hours of community service to a local nonprofit, Matthew 25. Specifically, he is working on the Matthew 25 Grow Taylor project to assist the Taylor Elementary School community in Cedar Rapids, where he attended primary school.

"All of the activities I'm involved in are basically service-oriented, so that was why I gravitated toward applying for the Truman," May said.

Along with O'Loughlin, May credits several faculty and staff for supporting him at Coe. Last fall, he worked with English Professor Gina Hausknecht to pilot a writing fellow program to mentor her First-Year Seminar students in their study of Shakespeare. Hausknecht also encouraged May's pursuit of the Truman.

May noted Coe Director of Community Engagement Kayla Lyftogt "was a huge driving force, with many community connections" that spurred him to pursue community service endeavors. English Professor Melissa Sodeman constantly challenged May to become a better writer and a more critical thinker. Finally, English Professor and National Fellowship Advisor Amber Shaw met with May every week during the application process and was always willing to provide further advice.

Although it was a big commitment to apply for the Truman Scholarship, May affirms it was well worth the effort now that he has received the award.

"It was really challenging deciding to do this because it is such a big task with so many moving parts," May said. "You constantly compare yourself with the rest of the students in the nation who you probably think are so much smarter and more capable than you are. I would credit Paula (O'Loughlin) with validating my ability to do this and do it well.”

"We are immensely proud of Kelly May and his recognition as a 2018 Truman Scholar. This is a huge honor for Kelly," O'Loughlin said. "Truman scholars are chosen because of their commitment to public service, their record of leadership in making the world a better place and their trajectory as transformational change agents for the future.

"Kelly's academic excellence, humble leadership, community involvement and commitment to the public good exemplify the spirit of being a Kohawk. Kelly is a wonderful young person and his being chosen as a Truman Scholar reaffirms a central element of the Coe ethos. Coe makes things students never dreamed of possible, and then Coe faculty and staff support them as they pursue those dreams."

For more information about scholarship and fellowship opportunities, as well as the support Coe is able to provide, visit