Two students were selected as national finalists for the prestigious Truman Scholarship last week.
The students are Sheyenne Soto, a cadet in Temple’s Reserve Officers Training Corps program and a junior strategic communications major, and Ashton Dunkley, a student-athlete on the cross country and track and field teams and a junior anthropology and history major.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, former President Harry Truman’s living memorial, selects 55 to 65 United States college students each year to win $30,000 in scholarship money to be used for graduate school. The foundation looks for candidates who are strong leaders engaged in their communities and committed to pursuing a career in public service.
The university has had finalists for the scholarship in recent years, but the last recipient of the award was in 2009, said Barbara Gorka, Temple’s director of scholarship development and fellowship advising.
“The challenge with these awards is finding the needle in the haystack,” Gorka said. “It’s a small number of students who, for the Truman, are strong academically, who have a strong record of leadership, who have a strong and deep record of community and public service and who intend to pursue a career of public service.”
Soto is a part of the mission tactics team in ROTC, which will compete in the Sandhurst Competition at U.S. Military Academy in April. This is the university’s first time going, and Temple is one of eight ROTC programs in the country to attend.
In competition, the mission tactics team endures intense physical, mental and leadership tasks that are reflective of real combat operations.
In 2011, Soto enlisted in the military right out of high school. She had never considered college, so coming to Temple in 2016 at the age of 25 after serving in the U.S. Army was important to her, she said.
“I’ve never been involved in an application for a scholarship before,” Soto said. “I didn’t really know where to start. … Just being able to get through that process and revising it is an accomplishment within itself.”
Soto met an Army recruiter at the county courthouse when she was checking in with her probation officer as a junior in high school.
“I was curious what was going on with [the recruiter], and struck up a conversation with him,” Soto said. “He told me if I could get myself together, stay in school and finish, he could get me out of that hopeless situation I put myself in in high school, not really going anywhere.”
Soto spent six years in the Army working in Afghanistan, Tokyo and at Fort Carson in Colorado. As a sergeant in Tokyo, she received the Green to Gold scholarship, where non-commissioned officers are able to apply to an ROTC program at a university.
In August 2016, she began her strategic communications major and the ROTC program at the university.
Soto has one year of military obligation after graduating in May 2019 and hopes to continue in the intelligence field. She intends to study international relations in graduate school and is passionate about human trafficking awareness. She hopes to conduct research in that field.
“The hardest thing was writing about myself and my life, that’s probably not as spick and span as other people,” she said. “But completing the application process and being able to follow through with it, and using it for other things is definitely something I encourage everyone to attempt.”
Lt. Col. Keith Benedict is a volunteer military science professor at Temple who oversees the ROTC cadets.
“Sheyenne is an incredibly committed public servant,” Benedict said. “She’s a peer leader, she’s incredibly resilient, and when things get tough, I think she has a gift for knowing…how to energize people and help them surpass their own limitations.”
Dunkley is on the cross country and track and field teams, for which she runs the 800 meter and is on the conference team. This weekend she attended the conference championship in Birmingham, Alabama, for indoor track. Dunkley has been on the athletic director’s honor roll every semester.
“I really like the way the application process forces you to think about what you’re doing and what your future plans are, and makes you think critically about your own life…and how you want to progress,” Dunkley said.
Dunkley hopes to attend graduate school and receive her Ph.D. in history with a focus on Native American history and Eastern Woodland tribes.
“Eastern Woodland Native American tribes are not taught in school, and native people in general aren’t really talked about in schools after the year 1900,” she said.
According to Huffington Post, nearly 87 percent of K-12 schools in 2011-12 did not talk about Native Americans’ history past the year 1900.
Dunkley wants to educate people on the history they may have missed, she said.
She intends to focus her Ph.D. research on native people in the 20th century, specifically on the East Coast. But she hopes to attend graduate school on the West Coast, where there is more of a focus on Native American history and studies, Dunkley said.
Ultimately, Dunkley hopes to become a university professor.
Dunkley and Soto will complete final interviews between March 2 and April 6. The 2018 Truman Scholars will be announced on April 20.