“Surprised,” “jubilant” and “relieved,” were only some of the emotional reactions of Elisabeth Becker ’06 and Kevin Huang ’06 upon being named recipients of two prestigious academic scholarships in recent weeks.
Becker, a double major in sociology and a self-designed concentration dealing with refugee issues in the College of Arts and Sciences, earned the Harry S. Truman Foundation Scholarship. The award, given this year to 75 out of 602 candidates, grants $30,000 toward graduate study to strong students with leadership and public service experience.
Huang, a materials science and engineering major in the College of Engineering, won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. The award grants up to $7,500 a year to research-oriented students in math, science and engineering. This year, 319 others were given the scholarship from a pool of 1,091 nominees.
“I thought my interviews went as well as I could have hoped, but with so many qualified candidates, you really never know,” said Becker.
Huang echoed Becker’s sentiments: “The Goldwater Scholarship was kind of a personal goal of mine coming into Cornell, and after I was nominated, I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to get it, though I guess I was secretly crossing my fingers because I knew I had somewhat of a chance.”
Huang, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the 27th Goldwater Scholar from Cornell in the past eight years. Becker, a New York City resident, became the 18th Cornellian to win the Truman Scholarship since its 1977 inception.
Becker, both a College Scholar and Telluride Scholar at Cornell, served this year as treasurer of STARS, a genocide awareness group on campus. She has worked extensively on refugee issues, volunteering last summer and this upcoming one in Kosovo for Albanian refugees.
Becker hopes eventually to work in refugee resettlement, possibly for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or the U.S. State Department’s own task force for refugees. Huang, president of the Engineering Student Council, has conducted extensive research on novel photonic/optical materials and is finishing a report he hopes to get published this fall, after a summer internship at the National Institute of Research. He plans ultimately to do research for a company and, later, to teach at a university.
“I love doing research, as I get to see [the work] I’m doing have results in the real world … from tutoring other engineering students I’ve come to love teaching,” he said. “I guess being a professor would allow me the flexibility to do both.”
The scholarship winners expressed gratitude to fellowship coordinator Beth Fiori for helping them along the application process, as well as to their professors for writing the recommendations they credit in their winning.
“With scholarships of these caliber, most of the applicants have very strong academic credentials. In fact, I didn’t think my GPA was high enough — and it’s really the personal recommendations that make candidates stand out,” Huang said. “I am extremely grateful to Prof. [Chekesha] Liddell and [Robert] van Dover, and [Alison] Shull. I couldn’t have done this without them.”
In addition to the professors who wrote her recommendations, Becker wished to thank a number of former Truman Scholars who had helped with her application.
Several former Truman and Goldwater Scholars have gone on to win other academic accolades, such as the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. Both Huang and Becker intend to apply to graduate school next year, Huang for engineering, Becker for law, international relations, or social work.
“I get the sense my father has told the entire world about this,” Becker laughed. “I got an e-mail the other day from my second-grade teacher telling me how proud she was. My father helped me a lot with everything. He conducted mock interviews for me in English and Spanish, which actually came in handy with one of my interviewers.”
Said Huang about his parents: “They’re probably more excited about the scholarship than I am.”
The Truman Scholarship was established by Congress to honor the late President Harry Truman. The Goldwater Scholarship exists in memory of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), the conservative Republican who lost the landslide 1964 presidential election to Lyndon Johnson; Huang insists he is a Democrat.
Archived article by Ben Birnbaum
Sun Staff Writer