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UNLV Student Hannah Kelley Named a 2016 Truman Scholar

Kelley, a junior in UNLV’s Honors College, is one of just 54 college students nationwide selected for the $30,000 award based on academics, public service leadership potential.

Campus News  |  Apr 21, 2016  |  By Francis McCabe

Hannah Kelley was awarded a 2016 Truman Scholarship. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

UNLV undergraduate Hannah Kelley is one of just 54 college students nationwide to win the prestigious 2016 Truman Scholar Award, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation announced Wednesday evening.

Truman Scholars are selected for stellar academic and leadership performance and receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school. Award winners also get the chance to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership.

This is the second year in a row a UNLV Honors College undergraduate has won the prestigious award. And Kelley is the fourth UNLV student to win the award since 2008.

“Being recognized as a Truman Scholar is wonderful validation of Hannah's incredible efforts, her desire to give back, and what we have always known at the Honors College - that she is amazing," said Marta Meana, dean of the UNLV Honors College.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in education, the 21-year-old is hoping to dive into a teaching role here in Southern Nevada. “I want to start out as a teacher in the Clark County School District - the community that literally gave me everything I have,” she said. The 15-year plan, which the Truman Scholarship folks make applicants map out, includes four or five years of teaching before pursuing graduate work, Kelley said. Her plans for the summer will take her to the Mediterranean where she will be writing and reporting for an arts and culture blog in Israel.

Kelley, who will be the first in her family to graduate from college, said while in high school she always felt higher education was unattainable until some teachers began to encourage her. “I always wanted to go, but it seemed like a mysterious thing that was out of reach,” she said.

But Kelley had top-notch grades -- she was valedictorian at Green Valley High School -- and soon New York University offered her a scholarship. While it was a substantial offer, Kelley said, tuition expenses were still beyond her reach.

Kelley had never really considered UNLV, but that changed during a steakhouse lunch offered by the university to local high school valedictorians. She was offered a full scholarship and the opportunity to attend UNLV’s flourishing Honors College. “I had always had this idea of UNLV being a gigantic commuter school with no sense of community,” Kelley said. “But the Honors College is everything I was hoping for. It offers small class sizes under 20 students and makes you feel like you are attending a small liberal arts college, not a gigantic research university.”

And it was only by happenstance that Kelley even considered applying for the Truman Scholarship. She was attending an Honors College workshop about national scholarships being led by her friend and 2015 Truman Scholarship winner Daniel Waqar, when Kelley thought she might apply. “Every single thing I learned about the Truman Scholarship, about being an agent of change, how they were looking for people committed to a lifetime of public service, to work on public policy in health, education, and other fields… it just fit.”

Kelley knew she wanted to be a teacher to give back to the community. “But I also thought about how we can improve public education. And hearing those words about being an agent of change and giving a lifetime to public service, that’s the way I’ve always thought. That’s the purpose of my life,” Kelley said.

Earlier this week, Kelley learned about winning the Truman award while attending an afternoon class of Teaching and Learning Secondary Education. She covered her mouth with her hands as tears streamed down her face. She was overcome with joy. Dean Meana, who made the announcement, along with Education Dean Kim Metcalf and Kelley’s advisor Andrew Hanson, embraced her as fellow classmates applauded.

It was a moment Kelley won’t soon forget. “I never gave myself the credit for the things I could accomplish. I’m very humbled by this award. But I think it shows that anyone can do something like this if they just let themselves,” she said.

Kelley has maintained a strong academic record at UNLV - her GPA is 3.99 - while holding down jobs as a barista and sales associate.

Candidates for the Truman Scholarship go through a rigorous, multi-stage selection process. In 2016, there were a record number of 775 candidates for the award nominated by 305 colleges. The 200 finalists for the award were interviewed in March and early April at one of sixteen regional selection panels. The 54 Truman Scholars will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on May 29 in Independence, Missouri.

About the Harry S. Truman Scholarship

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation's living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. The Foundation has a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. The Truman award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States.

About the UNLV Honors College

The Honors College is a small, selective college within the university that offers an exceptional undergraduate core experience for highly motivated students. The college partners with "discipline" colleges of the university to develop graduates fully prepared to succeed in graduate and professional schools, and in rewarding careers.