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WIU student Elizabeth Etta is the University's first ever Truman Scholar finalist.
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WIU Student Named University's First Ever Truman Scholar Finalist

March 5, 2013

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MACOMB, IL - Western Illinois University senior Elizabeth Etta has been named the school's first-ever Truman Scholar finalist.

Etta, an African American studies major with a sociology minor originally from Bolingbrook, is also a student in WIU's Centennial Honors College.

"The Harry S. Truman Scholarship is widely recognized as the top scholarship in the United States," said Richard Hardy, interim director of WIU's Honors College. "The Truman looks for students who excel in academics, public service and civic leadership. Just to be nominated for a Truman is praiseworthy in its own right, but to become a finalist is a major accomplishment."

Etta submitted an application for the scholarship with the help of Hardy and Keith Boeckelman, chair of WIU's Department of Political Science.

"I thought the scholarship was out of my league and I passed over it initially," Etta said. "When I found out I was a finalist, I screamed so loud my neighbors came to check on me."

Through the application, Etta had to define her career goals and develop a public policy. She also wrote a personal statement about the struggles she has faced in her life.

"Basically, I had to figure out, in seven months, what I want to do with the rest of my life," she said. "I am very interested in public interest law, such as public benefits law and working with national advocacy groups."

In her policy proposal, Etta wrote to the Department of Human Services about its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. She promoted an idea allowing TANF recipients to use classroom time in place of work time to fulfill requirements to continue receiving assistance. The $7.9 billion per state program would partner with community colleges. Etta transferred to WIU from Joliet Junior College in August 2011.

Boeckelman said he is excited to see Etta become the first WIU student to reach the final round of the Truman Scholarship competition.

"Besides the financial award for winning, which is substantial, it is very prestigious," he said. "They choose individuals who serve the public, the people who can do the most."

The final round of the scholarship competition is a March 25 interview in Chicago, which Etta is preparing for now. Eleven other finalists will compete in the Chicago interviews.

According to the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, 629 applications were received from 293 colleges and universities. From those applicants, 199 students from 136 colleges were chosen as finalists.

To prepare for the Chicago interviews, Boeckelman said panels would be assembled to quiz Etta on potential questions. Hardy said those questions can range from inquiries about what books she is reading to defining leadership.

At WIU, Etta has been active in the Centennial Honors College, serving as an Honors ambassador and leading several Honors organizations. In addition to her class work at Western, Etta has been reading newspapers and books from other courses important to her topic.

"I feel like I am taking about 36 credits right now," she said. "I just want to make myself proud."

After graduation from Western, Etta wants to attend law school.

Hardy said one of the goals of the Centennial Honors College is to seek out students who qualify for prestigious scholarship competitions, such as the Truman Scholarship.

"This is big time for us," Hardy said. "No matter what happens in Chicago, we know that Liz Etta is a winner."

Three other WIU students, all juniors, were invited by the University to submit applications, including Caleb Markey of Macomb, a senior finance major; Steve Wailand of Macomb, a senior chemistry, pre-law major and Michael Quigley of Camp Point, a senior political science major. Markey is president of WIU's Student Government Association, Wailand recently was named a candidate for Macomb alderman and Quigley was named the 108th Sustainment Brigade's Soldier of the Year in August 2012.

For more information about the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, visit

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