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Junior Lee named Truman Scholar

A Duke student has been named a 2012 Harry S. Truman Scholar in recognition of her public service, leadership capabilities and academic achievement.

Junior Kristen Lee was one of 54 students selected for the scholarship, which awards up to $30,000 to college juniors to pursue graduate studies in public service fields. Scholars are also given priority in admissions at certain institutions and benefit from leadership training, career and graduate school counseling and internship opportunities within the federal government.

“Truman Scholars are exemplary individuals who are deeply rooted and invested in public service,” said Donna Lisker, associate dean of undergraduate education and co-director of the Baldwin Scholars program. “They’re expected to have contributed significantly to their community and demonstrate their potential to make a difference.”

Lee, a sociology major, has been involved in research on racial inequalities in higher education and sex trafficking. She has also conducted research and done community service to advocate for women who are especially vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS—individuals who are poor, poorly educated or subject to abuse—and partners of prison inmates.

Lee was chosen out of 587 candidates nominated by nearly 300 universities and colleges, according to the scholarship foundation’s official website. The nominees go through a highly rigorous selection process designed to identify juniors who have the potential to affect and improve their communities.

“From the moment I saw [Kristen] during her freshman year, she has always been dedicated to the welfare of others—searching for ways to make the community and world around her a better place,” Lisker said. “She exemplifies the civic-minded spirit of [the scholarship].”

A Baldwin Scholar, Lee said she applied for the scholarship because she saw the award as a natural extension of her work at Duke. She noted that the opportunities of being a Baldwin Scholar inadvertently aided her in preparing for the scholarship.

“Being a Baldwin allows you to become comfortable in your voice, prompting you to speak your own truth and also to share the truths of others,” Lee said. “It was evident that the [Truman Scholarship Foundation] was looking out for the very same qualities.”

Lee’s work transcends U.S. boundaries. She spent last summer in Ecuador creating gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS workshops for at-risk communities, and is now continuing her research on minorities and human rights through the Duke Global Semester Abroad program. The program takes place in Udaipur, India, and Beijing, China.

“Kristen’s dedication to being a change-agent in the arena of women’s health [was] evidenced everywhere in her application,” Melissa Malouf, director of the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows, wrote in an email Monday. “By ‘health,’ she means a healthy body image, an active, productive relationship with mentors and role models and control of decision-making.”

Locally, Lee is active at the Duke Children’s Hospital, working in the Sickle Cell Transition program since coming to the University. She is also a 2012 Spring semester editorial columnist for The Chronicle.

Lee plans to attend medical school and pursue graduate studies in public health. She ultimately hopes to embark on a career as a women’s health center physician who works with underinsured patients and special populations.

She noted that her joint degree in public health will teach her more than mere clinical practice and will address the “greater context of social challenges and governmental health policies.”

Duke nominated four students this year, Lisker said. Lee is the 40th University student to receive a Truman Scholarship since the program’s inception in 1977.

Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 and its awards are supported by a special U.S. Treasury trust fund. Among the qualifications, recipients must be U.S. citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills and be committed to careers in government or the nonprofit sector, according to the scholarship’s website.


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