Sydney Kamen '19 recognized as Truman Scholar

by Sunny Drescher | 4/20/18 2:40am


Sydney Kamen ’19 has been recognized by the Harry S. Truman Foundation as one of 59 Truman Scholars for 2018. The Scholars were announced on Apr. 12 by former Secretary of State and president of the Truman Foundation Madeleine Albright. Kamen is from Washington, D.C. and is a geography and sociology double major with a minor in international studies.

Kamen, who is currently interning at the U.S. Department of State in the Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, said she found out that she won the award via a Skype call from College President Phil Hanlon.

“It means so much to me to be identified and honored by an institution that really shares my values and my commitment to service,” she said.

Truman Scholars are chosen from hundreds of applicants from around the country and are evaluated based on three criteria: public service, leadership and academics. A committee of leaders in public service and graduate school admissions officers read all of the applications before selecting a group of finalists, according to executive secretary of the Truman Foundation Andrew Rich. Those finalists are then interviewed at regional sites around the country before the final selection of Scholars is made.

“[Kamen is] outstanding on all fronts,” Rich said. “She easily crossed the bar on all the criteria.”

In high school, Kamen founded a non-profit organization, So Others Are Protected, to help provide basic sanitation practices to under-resourced communities, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. SOAP helps prevent spread of disease by connecting communities with luxury hotels to recycle unused or discarded soap and promotes better sanitation and health education.

Kamen noted that she felt “deterred by the sense that to make a difference, especially in the world of health, that you needed years of working experience or an advanced degree.” To combat this, she started her own organization to help people through “simple solutions,” she said. SOAP is structured to encourage self-sufficiency and self-empowerment in partnered communities, in which she said she takes great pride.

In Hanover, Kamen has been involved at the Dickey Center for International Understanding as a War and Peace Fellow, a Global Health Fellow and as president of the International Development Forum. She is also an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadet, which she said has taught her about “service and sacrifice in the name of a greater good.”

The Truman Foundation was established in 1975 by an act of Congress to commemorate President Harry Truman’s legacy. The Foundation supports future public servants by providing each Truman Scholar with up to $30,000 for graduate school as well as opportunities for leadership training, graduate school counseling and internships with the federal government. Since the program’s inception in 1977, it has awarded over 3,100 scholarships and is “a beacon for public service” for college students nationwide, Rich said.

Kamen said she was originally seeking information about how to apply for a Boren Scholarship, which provides funding for American undergraduates to study languages abroad, when a fellowship advisor noted her interests and prior experiences. She said she was then encouraged to apply for a Truman Scholarship. Kamen has subsequently been awarded a Boren Scholarship as well.

Environmental studies professor Melody Burkins, who also serves as the Dickey Center’s associate director for programs and research, was one of Kamen’s recommenders for her application. She said Kamen’s commitment to service has been evident since before she arrived at the College.

Geisel School of Medicine professor and associate dean for global health Lisa Adams also recommended Kamen for the Truman Scholarship.

“What really makes her stand out is her total commitment to doing things the right way,” Adams said.

Burkins said Kamen “[craves] constructive criticism” in order to improve both herself and her work. Having known Kamen since her first year at Dartmouth, Burkins said that Kamen’s leadership skills have developed as she has connected her interests in global health, women’s empowerment and international security.

“There’s no doubt that she’s dedicated to these issues,” Burkins said. “She brings with her these different strategies of innate leadership that she’s growing and also a willingness to take on new challenges.”

Allyson Block ’19, one of Kamen’s first and closest friends at the College, said that Kamen has a strong sense of duty to her friends, family and country and sees public service as part of that duty. She likened Kamen to the cliché in macroeconomic theory “the rising tide that lifts all ships,” with her positivity and desire to help others.

Kamen credited the Dickey Center for being her “rock” at the College and for helping her take full advantage of the opportunities she has earned. She added that the Dickey Center helped her realize that when given an opportunity, there is “a responsibility to do even more with it to give back even more than you were given.”

Kamen plans to spend the next year studying Swahili in sub-Saharan Africa under the auspices of a Boren Scholarship. She ultimately hopes to pursue a career in global health, which she said would allow her to not only be a public servant to her country, but also to the world.

Though she is not yet sure what that service will look like, Kamen said she aspires to determine the best way for her to serve “to make the most impact, bring the most to the table, and do the most good.”