From Harry S. Truman’s hometown to Truman Scholarship finalist

Katie Ameku and Amber Shaw collaborate on Truman applicationLast week, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation named Coe College’s Katie Ameku ’25 as a 2024 Truman Scholarship finalist — she is Coe’s sixth Truman finalist in the last six years.

The foundation awards a $30,000 graduate fellowship to distinguished college students pursuing careers in public service. This year, 709 students across the nation completed the rigorous application process that includes seven essays and a detailed policy proposal. Ameku was among 191 students from 136 colleges and universities shortlisted as a finalist for the prestigious award. 

It would be too easy to assume that because Ameku is from Independence, Missouri — where Truman grew up — she was predestined to be a Truman finalist. But, no. Ameku’s path to the Truman is wholly her own, rooted in her dedication and ideals.

“I feel very excited! I’m ready for the next steps, and of course I’m thankful for all the help Dr. [Amber] Shaw provided, and am grateful for Coe’s endorsement. I’m excited to represent our community and present myself to the Truman board,” Ameku said. 

Since this past summer, Ameku has been prepping her Truman application with National Fellowship Advisor and Associate Professor of English Amber Shaw. They’ve been meeting weekly to brainstorm essay topics and policy proposals, edit drafts and, now, run through mock interviews. Shaw is available to help all Coe students with national fellowship and scholarship applications, including the Goldwater, Fulbright and Gilman. Kohawks earned both a Fulbright and Gilman in the 2022-23 academic year.

Together, they polished the essays and policy proposal that established Ameku’s public service vision. Specifically, Ameku is proposing an amendment to the State of Missouri biology end of course assessment to include a section on misinformation and scientific process.

“It’s great that my work is being recognized, but truly regardless of the Truman or not, this is work that I like to do, and I want to do and will continue to do,” Ameku said.

The work that is the foundation of Ameku’s Truman application is a melding of her academic areas of focus — mathematics, physics and computer science — with her passion for politics. She wants to bridge the gap that exists between policymaking and science. She believes her proposal will help elevate the baseline knowledge threshold in Missouri high schools which will aid in scientific communication down the road.

Currently, Ameku is a committeewoman for the Missouri Democratic Party, representing her neighborhood at the county level and her Senate District at the state level where she is the youngest one in the room by a considerable margin. She regularly drives the four hours to Jefferson City, Missouri and the four hours back to Coe to fulfill her duties, which allows her a front-row seat to party decisions in the Missouri capitol.

“Science and public policy seem far apart, but there are places where they intermingle and they intermingle well. While not every policymaker needs to be a scientist, I think scientists need to be at the table with policymakers,” Ameku said.

Shaw believes that intersection of science and politics is exactly why Ameku’s Truman application stands out. She noted the Truman committee often sees outstanding scientists and outstanding politicians, but an outstanding scientist politician is rare.

“What sets Katie apart is her combined interests in science and politics and how those two can and should work together for the greater good,” Shaw said.

For now, Ameku and Shaw will continue refining her remarks and interview skills in anticipation of the final step in the Truman process — a March 20 interview at the Kansas City Federal Reserve.

Of the six finalists in the last six years, Coe has had two students earn Truman Scholarships, Kelly May in 2018 and Larrisa Alire in 2019.

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