When University of New Hampshire (UNH) Provost Wayne Jones handed junior analytical economics and political science major Nooran Alhamdan the Truman Scholarship last week in front of her class, she started crying.
“I really was crying because my family has gone through so much,” Alhamdan said. “To know that my dad came from a refugee camp, and my mom came from a war-torn country, and that I was able to get an award like this just made me feel immensely proud of who my parents are, and who I am, and what our story is.”
The UNH student, Alhamdan, received the Truman Scholarship last week, becoming one of 62 students selected from across the United States and the first awarded to a UNH student since 2011.
According to Alhamdan, the Truman Scholarship is granted to students pursuing careers in public service.
“They’re looking for students who not only want to make public service a career in their future, but who have a lot of potential to be changemakers in public policy,” she said.
The Truman Scholarship offers support for graduate studies. The scholars’ commitment is to serve in a public service for three to seven years.
Alhamdan was inspired to apply for the scholarship after making a speech at South Church in Portsmouth on racial injustice, and receiving an email from Jeanne Sokolowski, the director of the UNH Office of National Fellowships. Alhamdan wrote a total of 14 essays as a part of her application, which she has been putting together since November. After submitting the application, she had to go through a 20-minute interview.
For Alhamdan, the interest in public service stems from her own experience as the first-generation American in a family of refugees.
“The focus of my application was work I would want to do for Palestinian refugee population,” Alhamdan said. “I kind of had an international aid focus, but also the narrative focus of how we talk about refugees in the U.S., and how we can work to better humanize and tell their stories in our discourse.”
Alhamdan’s resume of public service work on campus is extensive.
“I’m president of Middle Eastern Cultural Association, I am a staff member of OMSA [Office of Multicultural Students Affairs], I am an associate chaplain at Waysmeet Center,” she said. “And then, in my own free time, I’ve done a lot of fundraising, advocacy and activism for Palestinian refugees.”
Alhamdan is still torn on what the subject of her graduate studies will be. She is interested in international development, international affairs, Middle Eastern studies, public policy, and international policy. Career-wise, Alhamdan is interested in working for the United Nations, with whom she interned with last summer, but also in potentially doing research or being a part of a grassroots organization. Currently undecided, Alhamdan only knows that she wants to work in international policy while staying close to home.
Alhamdan said that none of her public service work was something that she planned.
“It all just kind of happened. I think a lot of stuff is something I wouldn’t consider work; it’s a lot of stuff that just came and happened naturally for me,” Alhamdan said. “I think along the way the names and the official positions just happened to come along.”
Although proud to be the recipient of the award, Alhamdan hopes to continue her public service efforts.
“I’m always going to be doing this work, and if I wouldn’t have gotten this award, I would still be doing this work,” she said. “I guess my advice would be, if you’re really passionate about something, just go ahead and take the risk… If you take that risk, you’d be surprised by the impact you could have if it’s for a cause that you care about.”