Avi Gupta ’23 and Liana Keesing ’23 never expected to be matched by the Marriage Pact. But the bigger surprise came in April, when they learned they had both been awarded the Truman Scholarship.
The scholarship, awarded in honor of former president Harry Truman, recognizes exceptional American students who wish to pursue public service after college. Recipients are selected based on their scholarship and commitment to public service and receive $30,000 that they can use toward a public service oriented graduate program.
Gupta is studying political science and pursuing a coterm in computer science in advance of attending law school to work on technology policy.
“Law is the tool through which policy is realized — it’s what makes progress long-lasting and is needed to institutionalize change,” Gupta said.
He is also involved in groups on campus like Public Interest in Tech (PIT) Lab, which focuses on fostering conversations around technology’s role in society. Gupta has also worked on and spearheaded projects like LifeMech, an organization founded in the early stages of the pandemic that brought doctors, engineers and volunteers together to build a low-cost ventilator.
LifeMech was created to address massive ventilator shortages after Gupta’s home state of Oregon projected a lack of critical supply. Gupta created the user interface for the ventilator and though the process was stressful, he found it rewarding to have “a direct impact on someone’s health.” The ventilator was ultimately approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and used widely during the ventilator shortage.
The project, Gupta said, epitomizes the work that he wants to do: using tech to solve a big problem: “It’s using technology to advance public service.”
Like Gupta, Keesing is set on a future focused on crafting responsible tech policy. Keesing is studying electrical engineering and physics and is also pursuing a co-term in electrical engineering.
While at Stanford, Keesing has not been limited by the rigor of her academic scholarship — she is also a student-athlete on the fencing team. She has led and been involved in projects like StanfordVotes – a nonpartisan organization focused on increasing voter turnout campus-wide. Stanford currently has the most students in the nation registered to vote on TurboVote.
“I’ve always been dedicated to public service, but as an engineer by training, the pathway to that was cloudy,” Keesing told the Stanford Report. “Applying for the Truman Scholarship helped me to solidify that dream and gave me confidence in my ability to serve as a leader in both technical and policy spaces.”
Though it has been just over a month since Gupta and Keesing received the news, the process for the 2022 Truman Scholars began nearly a year ago through the Haas Center.
Stanford students must apply to be nominated through Stanford the summer before their junior year. The Haas Center for Public Service then selects nominees and works with them to craft their applications before sending it to the Truman Scholarship committee.
Keesing said that the thoroughness of the process was instrumental in helping her develop her future plans at an early stage.
For now, however, Keesing is still focusing on the moment — she doesn’t expect the impact to set in until a few weeks from now, when the scholars will head to Missouri to meet each other.
“I’m really excited about where the Truman Scholarship takes me and figuring out what it all means for the future,” she said.
Leslie Garvin, Senior Program Director of Cardinal Careers at the Haas Center, was charged with supporting students in the Truman Scholarship Process. “At the Haas Center, we believe that the ‘secret sauce’ for successful Truman applicants is demonstrated impact in public service,” she said. “The Stanford Nominating Committee, composed of faculty and staff, takes this task very seriously.”
The nomination process begins in October and applicants are evaluated by multiple readers based on their work, application and three letters of recommendation.
Nomination finalists are invited to interview and Stanford is then allowed to nominate up to four students who entered as frosh and up to two transfer students to the national Truman Scholarship committee. This year, all five of Stanford’s nominees were named finalists.
Garvin highlighted Gupta’s work in the development of LifeMech ventilator, and Keesing’s leadership in the 2020 StanfordVotes initiative that resulted in record-high turnouts of Stanford student voters. “Both of these projects required new leadership approaches in response to the pandemic and demonstrate the potential for public interest technology,” she explains.
Sean Casey ’23, Keesing’s partner on projects like Democracy Day, affirmed Keesing’s commitment to public service and her qualifications for the Truman Scholarship.
“Part of the reason that she won is that she has these really big ideas and follows them with everything she’s got,” Casey said. “She’s always been the person that says why don’t we try to do XYZ-crazy thing and goes ahead and does it; it’s a very admirable quality.”
Julia Meltzer knows Gupta through two roles, as his President in the PIT Lab, where Gupta is one of the chiefs of staff, and as his Resident Advisor. “The Truman news wasn’t surprising because there is no one better that I can imagine receiving support on their journey to public service,” she said.
When he is “off-duty,” Meltzer also explained that Gupta “has the most friendly way of ensuring people get their work done and is generally a great energy and presence.”
This year, 58 students from 53 institutions were awarded the prestigious scholarship. The national Truman Scholarship competition elicited 705 applications from 275 institutions. There were 189 finalists invited by the Truman foundation for state-level interviews. Stanford is only one of six schools to have more than one scholar — perhaps the Marriage Pact has more precognition than we think.