Abigail Smith, a West Virginia University student committed to improving the future of West Virginia through public policy, has been named the University’s 25th Truman Scholar, the nation’s top graduate fellowship award for aspiring public service leaders.
“One needs only to look at Abby’s commitment to the Council for Gender Equity, the leadership skills she’s honing as a member of the debate team and the creativity she shares in her work on the staff of the Daily Athenaeum to know she embodies the best of our students here at West Virginia University, ” President Gordon Gee said. “She does all of that while excelling in her classes and making time to serve as a mentor and volunteer. I am pleased that Abby, like the University’s 24 Truman scholars before her, is already endeavoring to make the world a better place for all of us.”
“I was raised in an environment in West Virginia where a lot of people needed a lot of help, and I saw that all the time. My parents raised me to care about those people and do everything I could to help them, so pursuing public service as a career was just the best option for me,” Smith said. “In any way that I can, giving back to West Virginia is what I want to do. This is my home. I live here. My family's here. I want to do anything I can to make this place better for future West Virginians.”
The Parkersburg native discovered a clear path toward reaching that goal while taking POLS 230: Introduction to Policy Analysis during her first semester at WVU.
“I originally came into political science with the idea of wanting to work on campaigns and elections. After taking the department's mandated policy class, I really solidified that I wanted to work in policy. It is not something I even knew was a career field before I came to college. WVU helped me find that path,” Smith said. “The only way to get anything done in government is through policies. Words go a long way, but action goes further.”
“These disciplines are important in the public service world because most public servants are leaders in some capacity. I wanted to understand that on a deeper level,” Smith said. “Everything in the United States and in government intertwines with the economy and economics in some way. Understanding both of those disciplines and how they intersect with political science is really beneficial.”
Smith’s WVU education is fully supported by a scholarship for her role on the WVU Debate Team, a self-described life-changing experience.
“Debate raised me. Speech and debate grew me into what I am today,” Smith said. “It's a great program, and there are a lot of opportunities for students to get scholarships to colleges through speech and debate.”
Through a new initiative with the WVU Office of the President in partnership with the West Virginia Speech and Debate Association, Smith is working to increase debate opportunities for West Virginia high school students. She is leading a team to plan a coaches’ institute to train high school teachers to become speech and debate coaches. While the planning committee has faced some delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith hopes to schedule the in-person event in 2022.
In her two years at WVU, Smith has also worked at the Daily Athenaeum as a podcast editor, hosted a virtual voting education panel leading up to the 2020 general election and conducted congressional oversight research with Associate Professor of Political Science Jason MacDonald.
"Abby personifies WVU's land-grant spirit: excellence in academic and co-curricular endeavors, engaged leadership on key issues and commitment to service to West Virginia,” said Jay Cole, senior adviser to Gee, WVU's Truman representative and a 1993 Truman Scholar. “I know she will carry that spirit forward in her graduate studies and professional career."
Truman Scholars demonstrate outstanding leadership potential, a commitment to a career in government or the nonprofit sector and academic excellence. Each Truman Scholar receives funding for graduate studies, leadership training, career counseling and special internship and fellowship opportunities within the federal government.
“Winning the Truman Scholarship means the world to me. It was something that I knew I wanted from the first semester of my freshman year. I did theater for a long time, so I tend to keep my expectations low. That way, I'm never disappointed and always pleasantly surprised when good things happen,” Smith said. “This award reflects all the hard work I’ve put in, not only in the application over the past year, but into college and everything I've done beyond that. It feels great to have this this funding and to have this community of public servants recognize me.”
Smith will use the award to support her graduate studies following her graduation from WVU in spring 2022. She aspires to pursue a dual master’s degree in public policy and PhD in government from Georgetown University.
"I am so proud of how Abby has continued to thrive and make a difference during a difficult year. She was inspired to activism by watching her teachers speak out for change, and I have no doubt she'll continue to make her mark on education policy and elsewhere,” said Amy Cyphert, director of WVU’s ASPIRE Office. “Abby joins a long line of WVU Truman Scholars who live out our land-grant mission in their important work."
The 62 new Truman Scholars were selected from 845 candidates nominated by 328 colleges and universities – a record number of applicants.
"Abby is WVU's 25th Truman Scholar. Reaching 25 is a benchmark and an appropriate occasion for reflecting on WVU's Truman tradition,” Cole said. “Every WVU student who has applied over the years, and every WVU faculty and staff member who helped them, are part of that proud tradition."