KU News Release


March 1, 2011
Contact: Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, University Honors Program, 785-864-4225

Two seniors advance in competition for national Truman scholarships

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LAWRENCE — Two seniors from the University of Kansas have advanced to the regional level in the competition for Harry S. Truman Scholarships. The prestigious national scholarships provide up to $30,000 for college students preparing for leadership in public service.

Erin Elizabeth Atwood, majoring in genetics and Spanish, and Cara Neufeld Smith, majoring in applied behavioral science with a community health concentration, will interview with a regional panel on March 7 in Kansas City, Mo.


Erin Atwood


Cara Smith

Both are from Topeka and both plan to pursue medical degrees and graduate degrees in public health.

Atwood hopes to become a pediatrician working in a public hospital or a public health care clinic that serves primarily minority and immigrant populations. She is the daughter of Jennie and Michael Atwood and a Washburn Rural High School graduate.

Smith’s career goals include working toward a leadership position in the Centers for Disease Control to address chronic health needs and health care disparities. She is the daughter of Roger and Cynthia Smith of Topeka and a graduate of Topeka High School.

Regional panels throughout the United States will interview about 200 finalists between March 4 and 25 and make recommendations for the 75 scholarships available. Winners will be announced March 29.

Truman scholars are chosen on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability and the likelihood of “making a difference.” Candidates must be planning careers in public service and must propose a solution to a public policy issue as part of their application.

Scholars must work in public service for three of the seven years following completion of a foundation-funded graduate degree program as a condition of receiving Truman funds.

Since 1981, 16 KU students have become Truman scholars. The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 and made its first scholarship awards in 1977.

At KU, the University Honors Program coordinates the Truman scholarship nomination process.

In addition to being from the same city, the KU finalists both are members of the University Honors Program and received Watkins-Berger Scholarships, a renewable scholarship program at KU for a select group of outstanding incoming Kansas high school graduates.

Atwood has been abroad in South Africa this semester and is preparing to study in Lima, Peru, through May. As a sophomore, Atwood co-directed an “Into the Streets” campaign to motivate students to become involved in community service and activism. The campaign attracted more than 300 student volunteers and raised $27,000 to bring an internationally renowned speaker to campus to address the need and value of service. The week culminated with the inauguration of Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and helped meet her goal of seeing the university provide 100,000 hours of community service as part of the inaugural events.

As a freshman, Atwood began volunteering with Natural Ties, a campus service that pairs KU volunteers with “ties” — adults with developmental disabilities — for weekly for social activities. She is now a Natural Ties leader and has focused on shaping the program so that all volunteers learn from their “ties.” Working with Natural Ties extends Atwood’s earlier work with children with developmental disabilities. She began volunteering at age 12 in free swim classes for children with Down syndrome taught by her mother, a physical therapist. She has also served as a Spanish interpreter for the JayDoc Free Clinic at KU Medical Center. She has worked as a research assistant for the Communication Success Project at the Life Span Institute at KU. The project studied communication development of children from Spanish-speaking homes.

Atwood was one of 20 freshmen selected to serve on the Freshman Leadership Council. As a sophomore, she was one of 20 students selected for the University Scholars Program, a mentorship program for top high-achieving students. She was also elected president of Lambda Sigma sophomore honor society. She has received both a Robert J. Dole Public Service Scholarship and a Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship.

For the past two years, Smith has received a Kansas Health Foundation Undergraduate Fellowship, which funds work in Kansas communities. Her extensive volunteer service with health-related agencies and clinics includes weekly service with Heartland Medical Clinic in Lawrence, volunteering with Birthplace at Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka and completing a summer internship with the Shawnee County Health Agency. In January, Smith led an Alternative Breaks group at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. She has also volunteered with the Mennonite Disaster Service to rebuild homes destroyed in 2007 by a tornado in Greensburg.

On campus, Smith is on the All-Scholarship Hall Council and a resident of Margaret Amini Scholarship Hall, where she serves as food board manager. The work involves planning menus for 50 scholarship residents with varying dietary needs and cultural food preferences and working with kitchen staffers to ensure food safety. Smith has been recognized for instituting changes in the hall’s food supplies to support and promote healthy lifestyles among the residents.

Smith is a recipient of a 2009 Honors Development Grant. She is a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society and the Owl Society, KU’s honor society for third-year students.


The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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