Celebrity status: Student is sixth at Temple to win Truman Scholarship

Ray Epstein was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship fresh after winning Temple Student Government’s presidential election.

Ray Epstein, an English and Communication and Social Influence double major, upon receiving word she won the Truman Scholarship. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Ray Epstein, the newly elected president of Temple Student Government and current president of Student Activists Against Sexual Assault, has recently become a student celebrity on campus. 

“I have never felt this recognized and recognizable,” said Epstein, a junior English and communication and social influence major. “I feel almost not like a person and not in a bad way, but it’s just every day I’m on campus, 20 people come up to me and say something, it’s just not something I’m used to.”

On April 12, Epstein was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship, becoming the sixth Temple student to receive the $30,000 award. The highly selective scholarship, awarded to 60 students nationwide, recognizes her leadership potential and commitment to public service.

It will support her pursuit of a law degree, and the scholarship will also be matched by her chosen institution. Epstein plans to advocate for sexual assault survivor reporting legislation with her law degree.

“She’s always been willing to just go the extra step and just keep doing work,” said Tanner Wood, the Student Training and Rewards System coordinator for SAASA and a junior political science major. “A lot of people will say, ‘I want a break, I want to enjoy my day,’ but she just keeps going.”

In October 2022, Epstein founded and reignited Temple’s chapter of SAASA on Main Campus. Since then, the organization has raised awareness for sexual assault through programming including the Clothesline Project, promotion of Callisto Vault, implementation of sexual assault prevention training, and giving away a total of $350,000 in free Uber vouchers to students, among other initiatives. 

“I had always talked to my other friends about how well run SAASA was, they have so many events, it’s so well run, you know who they are,” said Kiyah Hamilton, a sophomore health professions major, TSG’s next vice president and secretary of Temple’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action. “I had always talked to my friends about how much Ray is such an inspiration in that aspect and how I really want that to happen for Planned Parenthood because it is a new organization. I want it to be on the level as SAASA.”

When she wasn’t planning programming or applying for grants, like Pennsylvania’s It’s On Us grant, Epstein was actively working to earn the Truman Scholarship.

The scholarship application process is incredibly grueling, Epstein said. It began with an initial application to Temple to become the university’s Truman Scholarship nominee, which Epstein submitted in November after starting it a month earlier. 

Epstein worked with Barbara Gorka, the director of scholar development and fellowships advising, who prepped her with various interview questions, ensuring she knew her application inside and out. A panel of Temple professors and law professionals then interviewed Epstein, after which they granted her Temple’s nomination. 

Once Epstein found out she was a Truman Scholarship finalist on Feb. 9, she had two months to prepare for the final interview in Washington, D.C. 

Amid all of the demands of SAASA, preparing for the final interview and the TSG election season, Epstein experienced a severe concussion at the end of February, which affected her attention span and ability to articulate thoughts out loud. 

“So that definitely also was something that made me think, ‘Oh, I’m not going to get this because I wasn’t at my top cognitive function,’” Epstein said. “And it really put a damper on me preparing because it’s something you have to prepare super intensely for, you need to know your area like the back of your hand.”

Through support from close friends and peers within her respective organizations, Epstein was able to successfully understand her interview material.

While Epstein was preparing for the final scholarship interview, the election became a major crutch because it allowed her to express her interests and ideas in addition to combating sexual assault. The intense pressure of Truman Scholarship prep paled in comparison to the TSG election process, which allowed her to be herself during campaigning. 

Once arriving in D.C. for the scholarship interview, Epstein felt out of place among her prestigious Ivy League and University of California conglomerate peers, all finalists for the scholarship. However, Epstein turned the nervous feeling into motivation and despite emotionally difficult questions, she was honored as the recipient of the Truman Scholarship. 

“I really thought I didn’t get it because they asked me such a really shaking, horrifying question before I even sat down that I felt pretty thrown off for the rest of the interview,” Epstein said. “I definitely got in my head though, so I could have been fine, but it was throwing me off, so I really didn’t anticipate winning.”

Since the announcement, Epstein has received emails from professors at various law schools, including Yale. Although the scholarship will aid in her studies beyond Temple, Epstein still has one more year left, and a big one too, as she’s TSG’s new student body president. 

“I definitely want to change the school and keep changing it until I leave, that’s kind of what fuels me,” Epstein said. “So I’m really excited to continue doing that and to really try to make an impact on a higher level on a bigger scale that affects more issues.”Ray Epstein has previously freelanced for The Temple News. She did not contribute to the writing, reporting or editing of this story.

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