By Anjali Menon
Monday, April 4th, 2011
Haley White ’12 has been selected as the University’s sole 2011 Truman Scholar. The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation announced the 60 winners in a press release last Thursday.
The competitive scholarship, established by Congress in 1975 in memory of President Harry S. Truman, grants up to $30,000 for graduate studies to college juniors who have demonstrated a clear commitment to a career in government or public service.
For White, a Wilson School major, the preparation began last September when she applied to be one of the University’s four nominees for the Truman scholarship. After being nominated, she submitted an application to the foundation and was chosen as one of 197 finalists. The process culminated in an intensive 20-minute interview before a panel of five judges, which tested an individual’s ability to produce innovative policy solutions and speak intelligently about various issues under time constraints and mental pressure.
“At one point, one woman asked me, ‘You’ve traveled to all of these countries. Clearly, you’ve had a very privileged life. Do you really think you can understand poor people?’ You know, this was an awkward, big question,” White reflected.
White is also a former opinion columnist for the ‘Prince.'
White chose to take a gap year before her freshman year so she could enter Princeton with a clear mind and focus. She spent the fall working on a farm for Heifer International and later moved to a street market in Ecuador to work on an outreach program with an educational nongovernmental organization.
“It really just shaped my interests before I came to college,” White explained of her travel experiences. “Particularly, from these two experiences, I was really compelled by this idea of food. It is a necessary good, and we have so much trouble producing it.”
These experiences were especially helpful during her freshman writing seminar WRI 142: Refugees, Immigrants, and Social Justice, and her final research paper, which explored “so-called low-intensity conflict and drug-smuggling as factors in forced migration” was among the “most original paper topics,” lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program William Westerman, who taught White’s class, said in an email.
“The debates we had in Cafe Viv [on whether the exonerated Uyghurs in Guantanamo could qualify as Geneva Convention refugees] were some of the most challenging and fun moments I have ever had teaching,” he added. “Obviously I’m thrilled for her and very proud to be associated with her. But in her case, it’s also gratifying to see that they have not only recognized someone with a unique outlook on the world, but an outspoken commitment to social justice in ways that are going to challenge the status quo.”
In the summer after her sophomore year, she received a Dale Award to live with subsistence farmers in Central America, which later supported the research she conducted for her fall Junior Paper on agriculture and food security issues in Yemen.
Her junior advisor, Wilson School lecturer and former ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, called White a “stand-out” in her fall policy task force on Yemen.
“Her issue — food security — is critical to an understanding of the structural problems facing Yemen and clearly articulated, innovative yet practical recommendations were critical to the crafting of a credible Joint Report,” Bodine said in an email. “Haley made a strong and persuasive case that the newly-instituted Feed the Future Initiative, managed by USAID and USDA, was an appropriate programmatic framework for [U.S. government] assistance,” she added.
Bodine has drawn on this research on Feed the Future in Yemen for her own diplomatic work with the U.S. Department of State.
Last winter, White was invited to be a delegate to the U.N. Commission of Social Development as a representative for the NGO SustainUS.
In addition to her academic work, White is also an advocate for public service and social development on campus. In addition to being co-chair of the Pace Council, which advises and connects student civic engagement leaders on campus, White is on the Priorities Committee that makes budgetary recommendations and led her own Breakout Princeton Civic Action Trip, which studied poverty and economic development in Buffalo, N.Y., the city with the third-highest poverty rate in the country.
White is also known on campus for spearheading the Banana Project, which campaigned for the bananas stocked by Dining Services to be replaced with Fair Trade-certified ones. She was inspired for the project by her participation in an earlier Breakout trip to Immokalee, Fla., that studied immigrants working in the tomato industry.
When asked whether she plans to pursue a career in government, White said she prefers more “nontraditional” means of getting things done. She also said she would like to be working actively in the field.
“I am interested in the idea of social enterprise,” she explained. “How do you take a social problem and find a profit mechanism that makes a solution sustainable? ... I could see myself working at a consulting firm that has opened up a social enterprise division or for an agricultural NGO.”