E. Mary Williams, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has won the distinguished Truman Scholarship, worth $30,000 for graduate studies.
A political science and religious studies major from Washington, D.C., Williams was one of 75 recipients selected by the Harry Truman Scholarship Foundation. Nationwide, 311 colleges and universities had nominated 598 applicants.
Williams brings Carolina's number of Truman Scholars to 29 since the first awards in 1977. In the last four years, five UNC students have won the Truman.
Williams is the second Robertson Scholar in a row from Carolina to win the Truman, after Lauren McAlee of Crofton, Md., last year. The scholars are outstanding students who receive full, four-year merit awards to study at both UNC and Duke University, with half of them based at each campus.
Williams plans to earn master's and doctoral degrees in education, then work toward equal access to quality education in American schools.
"Our country pays virtually no attention to the achievement gap," she said. "This is something that my generation has the power to change."
The daughter of Emily and John Williams of Washington, D.C., Williams graduated cum laude in 2003 from the National Cathedral School in Washington. She will be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Carolina on April 10.
Congress created the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 as the official federal memorial to the nation's 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 non-profit 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 non-profit 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.
"I have rarely seen a student as committed as Mary to serving elementary and middle school students who need assistance in learning," said Dr. George Lensing, director of the UNC Office of Distinguished Scholarships. "She has been a volunteer tutor almost every semester since her first year in high school. One can be confident that in the years ahead, her dedication to public education will touch many lives, and in extraordinary measures."
Dr. Nicholas M. Didow, associate professor of marketing in UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, chairs the university's Truman nominating committee.
After college, Williams will apply to Teach for America, with which she hopes to work at the same time that she pursues her master's degree in education for elementary and secondary teaching.
The national nonprofit organization recruits graduating seniors from top colleges to teach for two years, at entry-level wages, in some of the nation's most disadvantaged grade schools.
While at Carolina, Williams has recruited for Teach for America. She also participates in the Scholars' Latino Initiative, mentoring a recent Latino immigrant and high school student. She has taught middle school for the past two summers - service projects funded by the Robertson.
In 2004, she taught low-income middle school students in Atlanta through the Breakthrough Collaborative program. In 2005, she led 150 seventh-grade students in English and life orientation classes in South Africa. Since then, through a Carolina service-learning course, she has spoken at Triangle grade schools about what it's like to attend school in South Africa.
The Atlanta assignment influenced Williams to bring Breakthrough to Durham. She has organized a planning committee, raised funding and obtained Durham Academy's permission to hold the summer program on its campus. Currently, it is set to begin in June 2007.
The nonprofit program, with 26 sites nationwide, recruits college and high school students to teach low-income middle school students on Saturdays and for six weeks each summer.
Photo URL: http://www.unc.edu/news/pics/students/truman/williams_mary_3_06.JPG
For more information about the Truman Scholarships, visit http://www.truman.gov/index.htm