GV student becomes a finalist for the Truman scholarship


Elizabeth LIenau

Courtesy / Elizabeth Llenau

Elizabeth Schanz, Staff Writer

Malia Kah, a junior at Grand Valley State University majoring in global studies with a minor in African American studies, recently became a finalist for the rigorous and selective Truman Scholarship. 

Kah is one of 189 scholarship finalists out of over 700 applicants. Kah’s position as a finalist is both a personal accomplishment and one that draws national recognition. 

The Truman Scholarship — one of many fellowship opportunities — aims to invest in college juniors who show a commitment to a career in public service. 

The scholarship has an extensive application process where students have to first be nominated by their university and then write 12 different essays. 

The opportunity for the Truman Scholarship was brought to Kah’s attention by Brenda Tooley, the associate director of the center for undergraduate scholar engagement and the Frederik Meijer Office of Fellowships. 

Tooley and other GVSU staff saw Kah’s commitment to public service and felt that the scholarship would be a perfect fit. 

“The students who are great applicants for Truman are those who are so involved in community activism, or working with refugees or working in sustainable and environmental arenas that they are not really thinking about a fellowship application,” Tooley said. “It’s more about a commitment to genuine commitment and a genuine involvement.”

Kah soon began working on the extensive application and received a plethora of assistance through the fellowship office. Resources were available to help proofread her essays, work through the process of the application and offer emotional support.  

“Sometimes you can kind of have that (feeling of), ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough to go after (something) so big,’” Kah said. “Tooley helped me realize that feeling wasn’t true and I have a lot of good things to do in the world, and this could help.”

Tooley said she encourages all GVSU students to reach for different fellowship opportunities and said that the Frederik Meijer Office of Fellowships is there as a guide to help students find and pursue them. 

Kah and Tooley said students should find a passion of theirs, engage with it and get in contact with GVSU faculty members who can help them find opportunities.

“It’s really about the ‘stackable’ experiences that are good in themselves and that also provide the foundation for a genuine narrative,” Tooley said. “(It shows) this is what I’ve done, this is what I’m committed to, this is where I am now, this is where I want to go. And this particular fellowship is a match to their purpose and values.” 

Similarly, the application process for fellowships can be a valuable experience on its own. Kah said that within her experience pursuing the Truman Scholarship, she was able to learn more about herself and her life goals through the application questions. 

As Kah enters into the final round of the Truman scholarship, which consists of an interview relating to public policy, she remains optimistic and grateful for the support she’s received and the experiences she’s had. 

Kah also encourages other students to apply for fellowships and says that there are many valuable lessons to learn regardless of the outcome. 

“At the end of all this, at the very least I just want it to be a very positive memory I want to take with me as I move on with my life and as I go on to pursuing my life in public service,” Kah said.