Kassandra Colón, a West Virginia University student committed to improving cultural representation in the classroom, has been named the University’s 24th Truman Scholar, the nation’s top graduate fellowship award for aspiring public service leaders.
“Kassandra is a perfect example of the commitment and creative thinking that students bring to West Virginia University,” President Gordon Gee said. “Her passion for creating inclusive spaces and improving cultural representation in the classroom has been nurtured through her experiences on our campus. Like West Virginia University’s 23 Truman scholars before her, she will make the world a better place for all of us.”
Involved in debate since high school, Colón believes in the power of ideas to shape our conception of ourselves.
“Students of color fall at risk in a whitewashed U.S. education system where scholarship by and about people of color is marginalized,” Colón said. “We are forced to trust a system with implicit-bias, a stereotypically driven institution with preconceived assumptions about marginalized identities.”
Colón started working to combat this in July 2018 when she started Project La Resolana, an initiative she runs out of her Morgantown apartment, matching students of color in South Florida to books on topics they want to learn more about. She particularly focuses on using the books to help connect students with their identity. As a Latinx student, Colón’s community drives her to work for change.
“In the face of struggle, I find the motivation to change my community because it is cathartic, an act of healing,” she said. “My community reminds me of where to turn when seeking fulfillment. They have taught me that we embody the solutions to address the needs of our society.”
Colón is one of 62 chosen from 840 candidates for this award. She will receive a $30,000 scholarship for graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming.
She will also join a network of more than 3,000 Truman Scholars around the world, including federal and state legislators, non-profit leaders, members of the Armed Services, academics, researchers and more. Past Truman Scholars include Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, speech writer for former President Obama Jon Favreau, University of California System President Janet Napolitano, 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The award will help Colón continue to pursue her goals, first by earning a graduate degree focusing on Puerto Rican studies and then by working to expand Project La Resolana to deepen its impact, formalizing its non-profit status and making connections with the public school system.
“By working closely with local public schools, Project La Resolana will center narratives of people of color in K-12 curricula by bringing culturally representative literature into the classroom,” Colón said.
Colón aspires to eventually pursue a doctorate and teach future generations about socio-political movements in Latin America, and advocacy skills to get involved in their own communities.
“As a Truman Scholar, Kassie becomes part of a proud WVU tradition that goes back almost 40 years. As a Truman Scholar, she also represents the future of public service in America,” said Jay Cole, senior advisor to the president, WVU’s Truman representative and a 1993 Truman Scholar. “It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to join with others in celebrating Kassie’s exceptional achievements and her extraordinary potential.”
Colón is a junior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida who is triple majoring in Latin American studies, women’s and gender studies and geography. She is a recipient of a full-tuition scholarship from West Virginia University for her skills in debate, and the recipient of the office of Global Affairs Global Education Opportunities grant and an Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Academic Enrichment grant.
Support for her application was provided by the ASPIRE office, which helps students pursue national awards like the Truman Scholarship. Students who are interested in learning more about scholarships, fellowships and other graduate school opportunities can schedule an appointment to discuss their goals.
In 1975, the Truman Foundation was created as the Presidential Memorial to Public Service and the living memorial to President Truman. The Foundation’s mission is built around the belief that a better future is dependent on attracting to public service the commitment and sound judgment of bright, outstanding Americans.