Two Carolina students have won prestigious scholarships for postgraduate study, and a third has earned one of the nation’s top merit awards for undergraduate study.
Michael Tarrant, a senior, has been awarded a Luce Scholarship to live and learn in Asia – one of 18 awarded nationwide. Junior Danielle Maria Allen has earned the distinguished Truman Scholarship, worth $30,000 for graduate studies. Sophomore Elinor Benami has received a Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship that will cover tuition, books, room and board up to $5,000 for her junior year.
UNC ranks second only to Harvard in producing Luce Scholars. Including Tarrant, 27 UNC students and alumni have won the Luce since the program began in 1974. Harvard has had 28 Luce Scholars.
A double major in political science and communication studies, Tarrant is student body vice president.
The Henry Luce Foundation provides the scholarships for a year’s internship in Asia, with the goal of acquainting future American leaders with Asian colleagues in their fields. Candidates must have no prior experience with Asia.
Winners are chosen for outstanding academic achievement and leadership ability. This year, 67 colleges and universities nationwide nominated 103 candidates for the Luce. The scholars will find out their specific assignments by June and will spend part of the summer in language study to prepare for their time in Asia.
Tarrant plans to pursue graduate degrees in public administration or public policy and higher education administration.
“I intend to dedicate my life to ensuring that higher education continues to be ‘the mind in service to society,’ ” Tarrant said. “UNC has served as the backbone of the state, not only in education, but as an economic driver and public servant. I hope to have the opportunity to learn and exchange different ideas, strategies and education policies that will better prepare students.”
Tarrant’s pursuit of a career in higher education led to an internship in his sophomore year in the UNC System’s federal relations office, which evolved into a part-time job for two years.
For one assignment, he helped develop a federal strategy to secure recurring funding for the Southeast Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing Partnership, an oceanic observation network capable of predicting maritime conditions critical to public safety, environmental management and protection of the nation’s economy.
Tarrant helped organize a briefing for congressional staff in Washington, D.C., where he explained the significant economic impact the partnership would have on the state. He also participated in meetings with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to stress the importance of an ocean-observing system of this magnitude.
Allen plans to use her award to attend law school. A double major in public policy and economics, she also is earning a minor in urban studies and planning at UNC. She plans to become a lawyer for an organization that works to address inequalities in public education.
“Issues of particular interest to me are school assignment plans, the distribution of school funding and provisions for child health care services,” Allen said. She aims to delve into how law has enabled educational inequality in the past and how it can be a mechanism to eradicate it in the future.
Allen was one of 65 recipients of the Truman nationwide this year, chosen from among 595 applicants who had been nominated by 283 colleges and universities.
Congress created the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 as the official federal memorial to the 33rd president. Truman recipients must be U.S. citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills and be committed to careers in public service, government, education or the nonprofit sector. Their grade point averages must be 3.6 or higher.
The foundation chooses recipients who are seen as future change agents, with the desire, intellect and leadership potential to improve how government agencies or nonprofit organizations serve the public. Scholars are required to work in public service for three of the seven years after completing a graduate degree funded by the Truman.
Allen has researched differences in funding for public education among North Carolina counties and concluded that change at the state level is critical.
“Efforts to close the achievement gap between minority students and white students have been thwarted by inadequate funding to attract and retain quality teachers, furnish basic classroom supplies and cut class size,” she said. “Under a plan that favors suburban and predominantly white districts and ignores the financial needs of rural and some urban areas – where black, Latino and other groups are concentrated – the public education system suggests to minority students that they are not worth educating. Such institutionalized immorality is unacceptable.”
The summer after her freshman year at UNC, Allen taught English and poetry writing to socioeconomically disadvantaged children in Austin, Texas.
“I realized that the inequality that exists in my community [where she taught] is far-reaching and wholly unjust,” she said. “My kids are just as talented as any other group of students, but because they are poor and attend low-performing schools, their dreams may be crushed even before they have a chance to develop. … Working with them solidified my commitment to pursuing educational reform.”
Allen has been a minority adviser with the Office for Student Academic Counseling; project coordinator for the Chancellor’s Committee for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration; and a student representative on both the committee working with Carolina’s re-accreditation process and the advisory board of the Office for Undergraduate Research. An honors program student, Allen has been on the dean’s list all five of her semesters at Carolina.
Benami, of Knoxville, who is double-majoring in international studies and economics, plans a career in environmental consulting. She has been on the dean’s list every semester at Carolina. She is in the honors program and N.C. Fellows, a leadership development program. Her activities include interning for the N.C. Botanical Garden in Battle Park on campus. She co-chairs the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, which manages student fees for renewable energy projects on campus.
Benami has set her sights on graduating as one of UNC’s public service scholars – students with notes of distinction on their diplomas for having performed impressive amounts of community service during their time at Carolina.
“Through my work, as well as through positive civic engagement within the communities where I live, I hope to encourage an understanding of how environmental issues have ramifications on many other significant issues in the world,” she said.
Udall Scholars are chosen for commitment to careers in the environment or, for American Indian and Alaskan native applicants, commitment to careers in health care or tribal public policy. Scholars also must demonstrate leadership potential and academic achievement.
Benami’s award brings the number of Udall Scholarships awarded to Carolina students to 12 since the awards began in 1996. She intends to seek graduate degrees in environmental resource economics and policy. Already, she has studied abroad, in Germany during high school and last summer in Southeast Asia. Both experiences were funded by merit scholarships.
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