Truman Scholar

Truman Scholar Ryan Carter


Leading a life of action and empathy, a Hampden-Sydney junior has been named a recipient of the prestigious Truman Scholarship. Ryan Carter '13 (at right), a talented athlete and an outstanding student, is one of only 54 students across the country to receive the honor.

"I am thrilled," says Carter. "It was a daunting process that required a lot of personal reflection and work but it was all worth it."

At Hampden-Sydney, Carter is a Davis Fellow, a captain on the baseball team, a member of Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society, a head resident advisor, a graduate of the Society of '91 leadership program, and the founder of a chapter of the mentoring program Visible Men. He has been recognized for his excellence in the classroom with the Sophomore Academic Excellence Award, the President's Award for Scholarship and Character, the Samuel S. Jones Phi Beta Kappa Award, and the All-ODAC All-Academic Award. He has done all of this as a double major in economics & commerce and psychology.

President Christopher Howard says, "Ryan is a wonderful example of the kind of young men Hampden-Sydney has been producing for centuries. He is a hard worker, an impressive scholar, and a concerned citizen. He certainly deserves this great distinction."

The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 as the federal memorial to the 33rd President, Harry S Truman. The Foundation awards scholarships for college juniors to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or elsewhere in public service. The activities of the Foundation are supported by a special trust fund in the U.S. Treasury. Including this year's recipients, there have been only 2,844 Truman Scholars.

Though the Scholarship comes with a significant monetary award to go toward graduate school, Ryan says the most significant benefit of the Scholarship is access to the network of people who are already working for social change and, of course, the Truman Scholarship name. "I think it is the best letter of recommendation I could possibly have. When I go to apply to Harvard or Stanford, it will give me a leg up on the competition. Because those schools are so elite and I don't come from a long legacy, don't come from a ton of money, and Hampden-Sydney College doesn't have a pipeline to the Ivy Leagues, I think every advantage is really important."

The application for the Truman Scholarship requires multiple essays with strict length limitations, including analyzing a public policy problem and providing a solution.

"The policy proposal is probably the most difficult part," says Ryan, "because the word limit is very small-you have to take this monumental problem and put it in a one-page memo and then discuss how you propose to fix it. We have huge education disparity between racial groups, income groups, socio-economic groups, etc., so I chose that as my area of focus. Then I went about fixing that problem in a very ambitious and unique way. The idea is to create a more efficient funding mechanism for non-profit organizations that comes with growth strategies and long-term investment."

"My idea lets me create my own path, so I don't have to choose one or the other. It's a path that lets me work at the intersection of business and social change. I learned that I can't live my life just for myself."

Truman Scholar

"Young people with a passion for social change are faced with the question of 'Should I go and work in a private field where I can take care of myself financially and professionally?' or 'Should I go into social work, which does not often pay well, comes with long hours, and can seem unrewarding because social change is so hard?' So you face the question of choosing one path over the other. My idea lets me create my own path, so I don't have to choose one or the other. It's a path that lets me work at the intersection of business and social change. I learned that I can't live my life just for myself. I've known that for a while, but this made me come right out and say it."

The Truman Scholarship is intended for students interested in careers in publice service through non-profit organizations or government, so Ryan's proposal came under intense scrutiny because it relies on public-private coordination. That scrutiny was palpable during the interview portion of the selection process. He says he was ready for the scrutiny, though, because of the soul-searching he had already done and the incredible preparation for the process he received at Hampden-Sydney.

Dr. Lowell T. Frye, a professor of rhetoric and humanities, also operates the Office of Fellowship Advising, which helped Ryan and other fellowship applicants through the lengthy process. He says, "The Office of Fellowship Advising is a new office-only about four years old-but you are seeing more and more of these kinds of departments at colleges and universities around the country because, even though you can have a student you know is a qualified candidate, many students simply would not apply or likely could not craft an outstanding application on their own. Not only do you have to have the experiences and outstanding academic record to simply qualify for the award, you also have to understand the 'psychology' of the application."

Dr. Frye has been coordinating with the Office of Career Services to find students who have had extraordinary experiences and to connect aspiring young students with internships and summer programs that can help them if they end up applying for a fellowship. However, Frye is quick to add: "You can't just do stuff that looks good on your résumé. You have to do what you enjoy."

The applicants, which also included Alex Cartwright '13 and Christian Hebert-Pryor '13, sent multiple drafts to Dr. Frye, for which he provided criticisms and suggestions. Likewise, when preparing for the interview portion of the selection process, Frye organized panels of faculty and staff members to grill Carter and other candidates on possible inconsistencies in their essays and their personal career plans.

Ryan says, "Dr. Frye and the faculty did a great job prepping us for the interview. The rumor was that the interview was going to be very intense and pointed. You sit down in the chair and there was no 'Hello. How are you doing?' It's one question; you answer that question and go right to the next one. With some of my questions, if they didn't like the answer, they just asked it again as if I had never answered it. It wasn't like they were mean-spirited, but it was intense. Their questions were very pointed. They wanted specific answers. It was not a tell-me-about-yourself kind of interview. After the first few questions, we were into a back-and-forth and the questions branched off of my previous answer."

Before the real interviews, Ryan faced a panel of faculty and staff multiple times for mock interviews. Ryan recalls that Dr. David Marion immersed himself in his role. "I walked into the mock interview and there he was, slouched down in his chair staring at me from behind a piece of paper. When I answered a question, his brow would turn up, and as soon as I finished answering he would say, 'Well, what about this?' He was much like the real interview, which was good because the real one felt like my fourth interview, not my first."

"The application will get you an interview," says Frye. "The interview gets you the award."

This summer, Ryan is an investment-banking intern with Morgan Stanley on Wall Street. The skills he picks up there directly complement his overall goal of creating private-public partnerships to improve educational funding.
When Ryan goes to graduate school, he will likely enroll in a program that offers a joint master's degree in public policy and business administration. First, though, he wants to work in the private sector to "better understand the language and the culture of finance and to develop a professional network to help build partnerships with non-profit organizations."

As more students learn about the Office of Fellowship Advising and how it can help guide students through the application and interview processes for distinguished scholarships, we plan on seeing more students like Ryan take their place on the national stage.