Rachel Stewart, an environmental sociology major from McMinnville, Tennessee, is a recipient of the 2022 Harry S. Truman Scholarship, the most prestigious award given to undergraduates in the United States who are pursuing a career in public service leadership.
Stewart is the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s first Truman Scholar since 1997.
“I could not be more honored and humbled,” Stewart said. “Public service has always been central to my life and work, especially as a Tennessee Volunteer. This award is not only a recognition of my dedication to public service but an incredible opportunity to connect with the foundation, my cohort, alumni, and more. I am excited for these connections and to take what I have learned from UT and apply it nationally and internationally to help benefit people and the planet.”
Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities, and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government. Stewart—currently studying in Kyrgyzstan—plans to participate in the 2023 Truman Summer Institute, where she will partner with the Collaboratory for Indigenous Data Governance to advance development of a new national standard to guide ethics in Indigenous research.
“Rachel’s recognition is a testament to the rich intellectual UT environment where students learn how to change the world, not just change with it,” said Amber Williams, vice provost for student success.
In addition to her major in environmental sociology, Stewart is minoring in nuclear decommissioning and environmental management, a program within UT’s Tickle College of Engineering. She previously participated in a Persian language immersion program in Tajikistan through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. On campus, she has served as president of Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville (SPEAK) and interned with the Office of Sustainability. In the spring of 2021, she was recognized with the Student Environmental Leadership Award and her organization, the UT Compost Coalition, received the award for outstanding student organization.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Stewart plans to pursue a master’s degree in health physics with a nuclear nonproliferation concentration. She hopes to work with the US Department of Energy as a health physicist, prioritizing community-engaged research and partnerships to help ensure that Indigenous and other marginalized communities benefit from scientific advances in radioactive waste management and nuclear weapons nonproliferation.
“Ultimately, I want to improve science communication regarding radiation risks, work towards long-term waste remediation strategies, and influence international nuclear weapons nonproliferation and prohibition policies,” Stewart said. “I am motivated by my passion for a cleaner, safer, and weapons-free world. To achieve this, I can also see myself eventually working for the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
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