ORONO, Maine — A third-year University of Maine student was recently selected as a finalist for a Truman Scholarship — a highly competitive award given to undergraduate students pursuing careers in public service.
Dominique DiSpirito, a political science major from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, is one of 193 finalists from across the country. The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975, in memory of the late Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the United States. Truman died in 1972.
Finalists are selected based on their record of community service and government leadership.
Scholarship recipients can get up to $30,000 to further their education, participate in leadership development programs and have access to opportunities for federal government internships and jobs.
As a first-generation college student, DiSpirito said she was overwhelmed to be selected as a finalist out of nearly 850 applicants. “It’s a big deal to me to get this far for a public service scholarship,” she said.
DiSpirito’s own passions center around environmental justice — particularly strengthening a community’s resiliency with practical solutions by limiting food waste, improving food security and natural resource management.
As a student ambassador within the university’s honors college, she has led several initiatives that had a positive impact not just on the university community but also on the greater Orono-Old Town area.
Since 2018, DiSpirito has volunteered with the Maine Day Meal Packout event to provide meals for the local food banks. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she continued to organize the event remotely from her Rhode Island home.
Last year, her team distributed more than 73,000 meals to 16 food security programs across the state, according to UMaine.
“At the end of the project, my community had become more resilient in the midst of the crisis of the century,” DiSpirito wrote in her scholarship application letter. “Our success taught me that any challenge can be overcome with resolve, creativity and resourcefulness.”
DiSpirito also worked to identify food waste solutions during an internship with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions last year. She helped launch two of the center’s six consolidated food waste collection pilot projects.
In 2019 and 2020, she also helped put on the university’s annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
“Dominique is the student every educator hopes for — very bright, engaged, hardworking, intellectually curious, compassionate, considerate and truly motivated by a desire to make a real difference in the lives of others,” Honors College Associate Dean Melissa Ladenheim wrote in a recommendation letter for the scholarship.
DiSpirito — who is president of the Honors College Student Advisory Board — previously received the 2020 Maine Policy Scholars Fellowship, a Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a Servant Heart Scholarship and two Mark and Katherine Zeitlin Haskell scholarships.
“Dominique’s passion for and commitment to public service, combined with her limitless leadership potential, make her an excellent candidate for the Truman Scholarship,” Mark Brewer said. Brewer is a professor of political science and UMaine faculty representative with the foundation.
After graduation, DeSpirito hopes to attend either Yale or Vermont Law School to study environmental policy and later pursue a master’s degree.
Scholarship applicants must be nominated by a Truman representative at their college or university and undergo an intense application process that demonstrates their commitment to public service. In addition to describing their career aspirations, candidates must also submit their own policy proposal that addresses a certain societal problem or need.
As a finalist, DiSpirito will be interviewed on March 31 in New York by a panel of former Truman Scholars that include Monica Bell, an associate professor of law and sociology at Yale Law School, Joseph McShane, president of Fordham University, Sara Shoener, a special policy adviser for equity at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations and more.
The Truman Scholarship Foundation generally selects between 60 and 65 award recipients. Scholars will be named April 14, according to the organization’s website.
If selected, DiSpirito would be the sixth UMaine student to receive a Truman Scholarship since 1980.