Wabash College student Cooper Smith was one of 58 college students in the U.S. to earn a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, the premier national fellowship award for juniors.
“This is an honor I’ve dreamed about for a while,” said Smith. “I’m going to meet with other phenomenal young leaders from so many different professional and personal backgrounds. I'm excited for the opportunity to get to know and collaborate with the other 57 winners.”
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation seeks to identify and support those most promising rising “agents of change” in society—deeply passionate students who are engaged and committed to addressing pressing issues through public service—by “identifying aspiring leaders at an important inflection point in their development—when they are college juniors—and recognize and reward their commitments to careers in public service.”
A native of Sellersburg, Indiana, Smith is the eighth Truman Scholarship winner from Wabash College, and the first since Timothy Flowers in 2005.
“Receiving a Truman award is a tremendous distinction. It is both an acknowledgment of a student’s achievements and a strong predictor of - and vote of confidence for – future accomplishment,” said Susan Albrecht, Wabash College Fellowship Advisor. “The application invites students to identify a problem or need in society that they are committed to working on and to articulate their vision for completing that work. There is no doubt that many Wabash men will go on to make a significant impact in their chosen field and in wider society, but what really stands out about Cooper is how much work he has already done towards addressing the problems he sees. Cooper has demonstrated a level of commitment and vision beyond what is commonly seen in someone his age.”
A political science and history double major, Smith is currently studying abroad in Valparaíso, Chile. He has served as the news editor of The Bachelor, the College’s student newspaper; as a writing fellow in the Wabash Writing Center; as chair of the Constitution, Bylaw, and Policy Review Committee of the Wabash Student Senate; treasurer of the pre-law society; and a section leader of the Wabash Glee Club. Additionally, he is a two-time winner of the Wabash Moot Court competition.
Beyond the Wabash campus, Smith has served internships with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Kentucky, the Innocence Project of Florida, and the Office of the Indiana Attorney General. Further, he has served as a Spanish translator at the Mary Ludwig Free Clinic in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a math tutor at the Montgomery (Indiana) County Youth Services Bureau, and as a grant writer for the Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County. He has also served as a substitute teacher.
“Cooper is a delightful, multi-faceted young man who is continually involved in projects beyond his years,” said Scott Himsel, Associate Professor of Political Science and Wabash’s Pre-Law Advisor. “The Truman Program provides a very special network for mentors and future leaders. Truman Scholars make a difference. This will open doors to many wonderful opportunities for Cooper.”
Truman Scholarship winners come from many academic backgrounds and may hold a vision for change in any area of local, state, national or international society. Smith’s focus is on the intersection of criminal justice reform and economic justice.
“Public service is everything for me. It's why I want to be a lawyer,” Smith said. “My work with the Innocence Project of Florida, with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, and everything I'm doing at Wabash is preparing me for my future. Though I don’t pretend to know every detail about my future career, I know this: my calling is working for criminal justice reform and economic justice. I’m off to a strong start, and I’m excited for what comes next.”
Nick Maraman ’10 was Smith’s supervisor at the Legal Aid Society in Louisville during winter break 2020-21 and the summer of 2021. Maraman said that even as an undergraduate, Smith has a sophisticated understanding of the law’s impact on the indigent. He is genuinely interested in a public-service career that drives reforms for the marginalized, and is highly motivated to work with and for colleagues and clients.
“Each and every one of the students who works at a legal aid office sees the impacts that our laws have on our vulnerable clients,” Maraman said. “Cooper was the rare student who delved into these issues a step further. He would fully immerse himself in the law and offer possible solutions. He is interested in the law and public policy for all the right reasons. For him, the goal is to make people’s lives better, to make our communities better, and to make our country better.”
Named in honor of President Harry S. Truman, potential Truman Scholarship honorees must be nominated from their U.S. undergraduate institution, and each institution is limited to four nominees per year. Applicants are then considered against peers from their own state, with those named finalists invited to interview. Typically, one individual per state is then named a Truman Scholar, with more populous states occasionally having more than one recipient. This year, 705 applications were submitted from 275 colleges and universities, with 189 students named Finalists. From this, Smith is one of the 58 Truman Scholars named for 2022 (8.2%).
“Cooper is the kind of young person it is easy to root for,” Albrecht said. “Not only because of the enthusiasm he shows for the work he will continue to do with the marginalized and oft-ignored in our society, but because his commitment is so abiding that he generates real hope for positive change. It feels wholly appropriate that the Truman Foundation included Cooper among this year’s recipients, as those of us who have come to know him at Wabash trust in the impact he will make.”
The award provides substantial funding for graduate school and significant opportunities for leadership development, networking, and skill-building, including a Summer Institute in Washington, D.C., after graduation, which introduces Truman Scholars to public service in the District and affords opportunities for networking and community building within the cohort.
Over the last nine years, Wabash men have earned 77 highly competitive fellowships. The list includes a Rhodes Scholar, a Truman Scholarship, 2 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships, one Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, one APSA Minority Fellowship, 26 Fulbright recipients, 22 Gilman Scholarship recipients, 11 USTA fellowship recipients, seven North American Language and Culture Assistantships in Spain, three TAPIF English Teaching Assistantships (France), one Freeman-ASIA Scholarship, and one JET recipient.