By Mike Enright University of Connecticut Communications
A pair of University of Connecticut students have been named Truman Scholars for 2021, marking the first time in school history that UConn has had multiple winners of the prestigious recognition.
Sage Phillips, an Old Town native who is a junior political science and human rights major, and Sena Wazer, a junior environmental studies major, represent UConn in a highly select group of 62 new Truman Scholars from around the country. They were picked from 845 candidates nominated by 328 different schools.
Truman Scholars demonstrate outstanding leadership potential, a commitment to a career in government or the nonprofit sector, and academic excellence. Each Truman Scholar receives funding for graduate studies, leadership training, career counseling, and special internship and fellowship opportunities within the federal government.
Established by Congress in 1975 as a tribute to President Harry S. Truman and public service, the Truman Scholarship carries the legacy of the 33rd President by supporting and inspiring the next generation of public service leaders.
“This recognition further affirms what those of us here at UConn already know — our students are making a difference through their leadership and their service,” says UConn President Thomas Katsouleas. “Sage Phillips and Sena Wazer represent not only the very best of what UConn has to offer, but also everything we challenge our students to be. With only 62 Truman Scholarships awarded nationally among over 300 colleges and universities that nominated students, to receive one is a rare honor. To receive two is an indication of something truly special here about our students and the life-transformative support they receive from our dedicated staff and faculty.”
Recipients of the Truman Scholarship receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership.
“The Truman Scholarship recognizes students for excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service,” says UConn Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carl Lejuez. “You have to be a triple threat to be competitive for the Truman, and that’s exactly what both of these students are. But, it also takes the support and commitment of mentors who encourage and fuel our students’ grandest ambitions. That support and commitment are just part of what makes UConn a great institution and such a great destination for talented students like Sage, Sena, and all of this year’s nominees.”
UConn has now produced nine Truman Scholars dating back to 1986. Only nine other institutions besides UConn had multiple Truman Scholars this year, including Boston College, Grinnell, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Notre Dame, University of Washington and Yale.
“I’m thrilled for both of these outstanding young leaders, each of whom has blazed a unique, meaningful, and impactful trail here at UConn,” says Vin Moscardelli, director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “Having two Truman Scholars in the same year is a testament to the ambition and energy of our students, their deep commitment to making a difference in the world, and the way our entire campus community fosters and encourages leadership, engagement, exploration, and personal growth.”
Phillips is also pursuing a minor in Native American and Indigenous studies. As a young panawáhpskewi (Penobscot) woman of the Wabanaki people, she hopes to pursue a joint graduate program receiving a law degree and a master’s in American Indian Studies.
She is the founding president of the Native American and Indigenous Students Association and the Student Coordinator for Native American Cultural Programs at UConn. She hopes that through her efforts to expand NACP to become a cultural center, she paves the way for UConn as a land-grant institution to work with Native youth in Connecticut.
“I just don’t think it has hit me yet, it is so surreal,” says Phillips of her selection. “To know what I do matters to even one person, much less the Truman Foundation, is amazing.”
Phillips was selected as a member of the Leadership Legacy Experience, recognizing the University’s most exceptional student leaders. Currently, she is a co-lead on a grant titled “Bridging the Gap: Assessing the Needs of Native Students in America’s Higher Education,” and a coordinator for UConn’s Indigenous Nations Cultural and Educational Exchange youth mentorship program. Both grants focus largely on land reassessment and opportunities for Native youth at UConn with the goal of improving the University’s relationship with the land it stands upon.
“Sage has emerged as a powerful advocate for current and future Native American students at UConn,” says Moscardelli. “Through her tireless work at the Office of Native American Cultural Programs and her engagement with the broader community, Sage is raising awareness of our land-grant institution’s relationship with the land upon which it sits and ensuring that UConn’s Native American students find a welcoming, supportive environment.”
Wazer, a native of Storrs, Connecticut, co-directs Sunrise CT, a hub of the National Sunrise Movement, which is a youth-led cause fighting to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” She helped organize two youth climate strikes in 2019 at the Connecticut state Capitol.
She was also the lead organizer for the Sunrise CT Youth Lobby Day in 2020 at the Connecticut state legislature, which brought over 150 students to the Capitol before the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the summer of 2020, she chaired a subcommittee on the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, and made campaign calls for candidates who were running for the General Assembly. Wazer was also chosen to be a part of the 2021 Leadership Legacy Cohort at UConn.
“I’ve spent most of my life working on environmental issues and public service and to have it recognized this way is really incredible,” says Wazer. “I am looking forward to having the opportunity to meet other Truman Scholars who are similarly committed to public service. It’s really exciting to be part of that community.”
After graduation, Wazer hopes to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and eventually pursue public office. She is passionate about climate justice and social justice and wants to bring that passion into politics. Wazer enrolled at UConn in fall 2019 at the age of 15 after originally attending Manchester Community College starting at age 13.
“Sena’s leadership and her commitment to fighting climate change, combined with a mature self-awareness that belies her young age, make her exactly the type of scholar, servant, leader, and changemaker the Truman Foundation is looking for,” says Moscardelli.