Becca Townley Wins Truman Scholarship

Rebecca Townley had expected a simple email or letter. Instead, she found that she was awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship when Saint Louis University President Dr. Fred  Pestello informed her of the good news while she was in class. 

       The Truman Scholarship Foundation rewards aspiring leaders committed to careers in public service. Each year, college juniors compete for approximately 60 awards. Townley, a junior studying political science and African American studies, was one of 58 scholars selected for the scholarship this year out of a pool of 705 candidates from across the country. 

     “I was not expecting Dr. Pestello to walk into my class. That was a pleasant surprise and it was really great of the university to show their [congratulations],” Townley said. 

        Townley first heard about the scholarship when a friend casually sent her a flyer about it. She set up an interest meeting with SLU’s Competitive Fellowships and Scholarships Office where she discussed her career goals and interests and where Dr. Brooke Taylor told her she would be a good candidate. Despite being abroad in Madrid,  she was determined to apply. 

      The scholarship involves essays, letters of recommendations, a policy proposal and an interview. Upon starting her application in Fall 2021 and submitting it to SLU in December, she received the university’s endorsement and sent in her final application to the foundation on February 1. 

        “Before submitting it, I had to take the feedback I got about my application and edit some of my essays to add specifics about what they are really looking for,” Townley said. “Then, I was just a sitting duck waiting to hear back.”

      The public policy proposal that she crafted was aimed at improving healthcare for pregnant women in prisons and immigration detention facilities. This specific topic was a culmination of her interests in public health, justice and public policy.

       Ten days after submitting, she learned she was a finalist for the state of Nebraska, her home state. Upon hearing this, she began practicing for her upcoming interview by doing mock interviews with some SLU advisors and faculty. 

 “The virtual interview was nerve-wracking because I had a lot of preparation to do beforehand. It was only 20 minutes and consisted of rapid fire questions about the policy proposal,” Townley said. 

      Townley’s interview panel consisted of seven top national and state leaders, many of whom were past Truman Scholars. 

       As a SLU student, Townley has been involved in various leadership and service organizations. After graduating, she plans to take a year of service and apply to a joint law and master’s in public health graduate program at a university on the East Coast. 

      “I will see where that year of service takes me, where I feel called. I would love to work in research and advocacy for public policies. I find a lot of power in the community so I would love to work at a community organization that works to help marginalized individuals” Townley said. “Promoting mind, body and spiritual well-being within a community and hopefully helping meet the needs of communities in whatever aspects and capacities I will have.”