ORONO — Dominique DiSpirito, a University of Maine junior dedicated to strengthening communities through environmental policy, has been named a 2021 Truman Scholar.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation selected DiSpirito and 61 other juniors pursuing public service careers to join the Truman Scholar ranks. DiSpirito, a political science major and Honors College student from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and her fellow 2021 scholars were chosen from a record number of 845 candidates nominated by 328 colleges and universities.
Recipients of the prestigious, merit-based scholarships earn up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school and access to career counseling, leadership training and internships and fellowships with the federal government, according to the foundation. The accolade recognizes students for their academic and leadership accomplishments and prospects of becoming leaders in public service.
“Being named a 2021 Truman Scholar is the greatest honor,” says DiSpirito, a first-generation college student. “It reminds me of all the communities that have been at the center of my passion for public service. I am excited to continue growing into my role as a change-agent alongside a vibrant network of fellow scholars and alumni.”
DiSpirito also recently earned Maine Campus Compact’s 2021 Heart and Soul Student award. The award recognizes six Maine undergraduate students who foster an environment of civic engagement at their universities and communities by creating positive change, institutionalizing community projects, demonstrating leadership and implementing innovative approaches to social issues, according to the organization.
Food insecurity, natural resource mismanagement and pollution plague many American communities and hurt their resilience. DiSpirito is pursuing a career that would allow her to tackle these plights through locally-supported environmental programs, a goal she has worked towards since her first semester.
The UMaine junior has volunteered for the Maine Day Meal Packout since fall 2018. During the 2019 and 2020 events, she served as the food bank liaison, ensuring they receive the about 70,000 donated meals donated each year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first uprooted daily life last year, DiSpirito and a few volunteers connected with partner food banks and local service organizations through email and virtual calls to ensure people in need could still receive meals. They were able to distribute more than 73,000 meals to 16 food security programs statewide in 2020.
“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.”
The Senator Geroge J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions recruited DiSpirito as a food waste solutions intern in October. The UMaine junior has helped launch two of the center’s six consolidated food waste collection pilot projects, which, according to her, “has made me understand that effective solutions require an in-depth understanding of the problem and its sociopolitical context.”
In addition to combating food insecurity, DiSpirito’s undergraduate experience has also included aiding Kate Ruskin, a lecturer of ecology and environmental sciences, as a student research assistant, founding and managing the campus Interfaith Group, participating in the First Generation Student Steering Committee, through which she helped plan First Generation Week in 2019 and assisted with other programs; and co-hosting and co-organizing the annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day in 2019 and 2020. She has also devoted her time to advancing the Honors College in various ways.
The UMaine junior serves as president of the Honors College Student Advisory Board, creating and managing its organizational budget, conducting weekly general and executive meetings and proposing new programs. She also assists the college as an ambassador and is a member of the Honors Council.
“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,” wrote Honors College Associate Dean Melissa Ladenhein in her recommendation letter.
DiSpirito’s 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.
Earning a Truman Scholarship would help DiSpirito pay to attend Yale Law School and pursue a J.D. of public interest law and a master of environmental management. She would be the sixth recipient from UMaine since 1980, according to the foundation website.
“Dominique’s passion for and commitment to public service, combined with her limitless leadership potential, make her an excellent candidate for the Truman Scholarship,” says Mark Brewer, a professor of political science and UMaine faculty representative with the foundation.
Congress created the foundation, a living memorial to President Truman and presidential monument to public service, in 1975. The Truman Scholarship serves as the premier graduate fellowship in the U.S. for future leaders in public service.