April 22, 2004

Student Receives Truman Public Service Scholarship

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Lauren Jacobs ’05 became one of 77 students nation-wide to receive the Truman Scholarship earlier this month. The scholarship, which was established in 1975, awards $26,000 to students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and who aspire to a future in public service.

Jacobs, the 17th Cornell student to receive the scholarship, established the University’s “Dump and Run” program. An end-of-the-year effort to consolidate waste and sell second hand items, “Dump and Run” raised $8,000 for local charities last year. In recognition of her efforts, Jacobs was awarded one of three Robinson-Appel Humanitarian Awards in 2002.

According to Jacobs, the success of “Dump and Run” kindled her interest in public policy as a career.

“Bringing ‘Dump and Run’ to Cornell really ignited my desire to be involved in public service at the policy level, where I can have a larger impact,” she said.

She decided to pursue the Truman Scholarship last semester, while participating in the Cornell-in-Washington program.

“I had never heard of the scholarship until I received an e-mail from Beth Fiori, Cornell’s Fellowship Coordinator, about the scholarship. It had a series of questions, such as ‘Do you want to commit your life to publicservice?’ and ‘Do you want to make a difference in the world?’ and so on, and as I went through the list, I could answer ‘yes’ to each question. It was then I realized that this scholarship would be a fit,” she said.

According to Prof. James Mass Ph.D. ’66, psychology, her advisor, Jacobs was a prime candidate for the scholarship because of her enthusiasm for public service.

“Her ability to get other people involved in good causes is remarkable,” he said, referring to her “Dump and Run” efforts.

Maas, who taught both of her parents when they attended Cornell, ranks Jacobs’ in the top one percent of the nearly 60,000 students that he has taught in his career.

When Jacobs was teaching underprivileged children in Washington, D.C. last semester, she contacted Maas, requesting some copies of his children’s book so that they could learn more about healthy sleeping habits. Maas recalls Jacobs’ account of the children’s unfortunate living conditions. “She told me that they were not eating right and that some didn’t even have a bed to sleep in,” he said, adding that he was glad to ship her copies of his book.

“You just want to join this woman,” Maas said. “Her spirit just uplifts you. She does it very naturally. She makes you feel like you want to do it.”

Jacobs, who is spending this semester in New Zealand, will return to Cornell for her senior year and plans to work with Maas on creating a “Dump and Run” documentary to be distributed to other campus across thecountry. She hopes that this effort will inspire other universities to establish similar programs.

Jacobs, an outstanding athlete in high school, was diagnosed with vasculitis, a degenerative disease that affects the autoimmune system, during the summer months before her first semester at Cornell. At her worst, Jacobs was reduced to a wheelchair and feared that she might die. However, two weeks before the semester started, a sixth doctor determined that Jacobs’ weathering condition was simply the result of an allergic reaction to her acne medication. Once she stopped taking the medicine, she rapidly recovered.

This brush with death was a life-altering experience that inspired Jacobs to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.

“My experience battling vasculitis made me want to make the most of my life and not waste any time. It made me want to make a difference NOW!” she said.

Jacobs mentioned this summer in her Truman application, emphasizing that her recovery put life in perspective has subsequently awarded her a second chance to make her mark on the world.

“After spending months visualizing my own funeral — who would come to the service, how my parents would react, what my obituary would say — a bad test grade, long lines and traffic jams no longer seem important. “Blessed with a second chance, I am now happier, stronger, and determined to make my life meaningful and worthwhile,” she stated in her application.

Archived article by Ellen Miller
Sun Senior Writer