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Video: Hannah Harper discusses her Truman Scholarships and future plans. (0:28)

Willamette student earns prestigious Truman Scholarship

Hannah Harper '11 has been involved in a bit of everything at Willamette University -- she earned two grants as a freshman to research in South Africa, designed her own major, participated twice in the Science Collaborative Research Program, studied for a semester in Ghana, and engaged in multiple campus clubs and volunteer projects.

Her experiences both on campus and abroad have been in preparation for her future career: working with a health organization in Africa to fight the global AIDS pandemic.

Harper's role as a "change agent" recently helped her become a Truman Scholar, a competitive national award that provides up to $30,000 for graduate school to college juniors who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation provides the award, which also allows Harper to participate in leadership development programs and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government.

Harper plans to earn an MD/PhD and become a medical anthropologist. In her Truman application, she developed a proposal for new policies to fund community health care workers in Africa.

"The combined degree will give me the opportunity to be involved directly in clinical health care on an individual level, while also giving me an anthropological perspective of the political, economic and social factors that influence disease in a society," she says.

Harper's major is African studies, which she designed in collaboration with her three faculty advisors, all of whom focus their teaching and research on Africa-related issues: anthropology professor Joyce Millen, art professor Andries Fourie and French professor Amadou Fofana.

"I'm grateful for my close connection with my professors at Willamette," Harper says. "My advisors helped me create this major, and they've also been there for me on a personal level. They have been huge supporters throughout my experience here."

She also plans to minor in chemistry and Spanish, the latter helping her in the future if she decides to bring her public service work back to the U.S. Last summer she worked one-on-one with chemistry professor Andrew Duncan through the Science Collaborative Research Program, and she plans to repeat her experience this year.

Harper credits her freshman-year journey to South Africa with helping her find her current path. Her College Colloquium class with Fourie, "Art and Identity in South Africa," piqued her interest in the country.

She earned a College Colloquium Student Research Grant and a Lilly Project grant to travel there for the summer and teach photography to orphans, while simultaneously volunteering in an HIV clinic.

"The opportunity to do my own research overseas as a freshman was incredible," she says. "My later study abroad opportunity in Ghana also was instrumental in expanding my world view.

"The interdisciplinary perspective I've gained from my Willamette experience has given me so many different perspectives for how to examine issues, and that's been valuable."

For more information on national scholarships for students, visit Student Academic Grants and Awards.