UNLV junior Kelsey Elizabeth Matthews has been awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship for 2022, the foundation announced today.
Matthews, a social work major and a member of the Honors College, is one of just 58 students nationwide to win the highly coveted award. As Nevada’s only recipient this year, she was selected from an impressive pool of 705 candidates nominated by 275 colleges and universities. Matthews is the seventh student in UNLV’s history to win the award.
Recognized for their outstanding academic performance and leadership potential in public service, Truman Scholars receive $30,000 for graduate study at an institution of their choice and gain access to exclusive professional development opportunities.
“Kelsey is a remarkable young woman who deserves all of the recognition that the Truman Scholarship brings,” said Andrew Hanson, dean of the UNLV Honors College. “The challenges she has overcome coupled with her unyielding commitment to public service make her one of the most compelling national award candidates I’ve ever worked with.”
Matthews’ path to this landmark achievement has been anything but easy.
Born in Connecticut to a mother struggling with substance abuse, Matthews found herself at a young age playing the role of “responsible parent” in her family. Her schoolwork suffered due to her focus at home and poor attendance. Tragically, after years of serving as her mother’s unofficial caretaker, she awoke one morning during her senior year in high school to find that her mother had tragically died of an accidental drug overdose.
Her mother’s death in 2016 ultimately became the driving force behind Matthews’ move to Las Vegas and her fierce advocacy for substance abuse treatment and prevention.
Prior to joining the UNLV community in 2021, Matthews found success graduating with honors from College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Arts while also becoming a certified mental health professional and serving as a community advocate for those suffering from substance abuse.
Through her connections with several community-based organizations, she has been actively involved with the Nevada Senate, assisting in passing Assembly Bill 374 and Senate Bill 390 in 2021, both related to substance abuse.
Matthews was recently named Miss Nevada Volunteer 2022 in recognition of her advocacy work and will be the first Nevadan to compete at the national Miss Volunteer America Pageant this May.
As a first-generation college student, Matthews knew next to nothing about nationally competitive awards like Truman. But soon after applying to the Honors College’s new Service-Learning Honors Program, she received a phone call from the dean.
“That call was totally unexpected,” Matthews said. “Dr. Hanson said he read my application hoped I would come in to discuss the Truman Scholarship. I was excited but couldn’t help but feel intimidated during that first meeting.”
Despite the daunting application process for the award, Matthews moved forward thanks to Hanson’s encouragement. She soon interviewed with UNLV’s endorsement committee and then, finally, with the Truman Foundation as a finalist in March.
She patiently awaited results for what seemed like an eternity. Until last Wednesday.
As Matthews sat down among classmates in her 400-level social work class with Jarod Giger, the professor announced that they had a few special guests for the day.
“In walked President Whitfield and Dean Hanson,” Matthews said. ‘All I could think was, ‘wait a minute…no way…no way!’ I couldn’t even put full sentences together in between my state of surprise and tears [of joy].”
Bolstered now by the Truman Scholarship, Matthews plans to pursue a Juris Doctorate with a joint master’s in either Social Work or Public Policy. Her ultimate aim is to become an attorney and advocate for social justice, legislative change, and public interest, and hopes to one day run for public office.
“From my perspective, this award is just as much UNLV’s as this is mine,” Matthews said.
“UNLV has been my dream school since I was 17 years old. I love our school, and I love this community. I’m so proud to represent UNLV and Las Vegas as a Truman Scholar!”
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. The 58 Truman Scholars for 2022 will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in late May.
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.