Drexel’s Vincent O’Leary Receives Truman Scholarship for Environmental Science
Drexel University environmental science student Vincent O’Leary has been named a 2017 Truman Scholar, a prestigious national award intended to support future public service leaders. As one of just 62 recipients chosen from a pool of 768 candidates — and the first ever at the University — he will receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and support in pursuing a career in the public sector.
O’Leary had planned on becoming a professor. He came to Drexel intending to spread knowledge and share research about environmental science in an academic setting. But as he learned more about the small role scientists play in determining government policy, he wanted to get more involved. This summer he’ll be on a co-op with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — his first foray into the public sector — and the Truman Scholarship cements a new direction for his budding career.
“It’s extremely rewarding to be validated in this way — that not only is what I want to do valid and needed and topical right now, but that people are really looking for this kind of science and advocacy at the intersection of research and policy,” said O’Leary, who learned of the honor April 6 from President John A. Fry himself. “It really makes me feel like what I’m doing is needed and that I should be pursuing this.”
The deadline to apply for the scholarship through the Fellowships Office was the day after the 2016 election, which challenged some of O’Leary’s assumptions about the future of environmental science and helped solidify his interest in conveying the truth to as wide an audience as possible.
“As an environmental scientist, there’s a lot of research that gets talked about that’s really relevant to people’s lives — about public health, sustainability, climate change — that’s not often discussed well, or only by a select few professors,” said O’Leary. “So to become more active in that discussion and find out how to better represent the facts became more and more important for me.”
Meredith Wooten, director of the Fellowships Office, first met O’Leary in 2014, when he applied to work in her office, and she has since watched him spread knowledge about science in the classroom and the community.
“He is an impressive young man who has experienced firsthand the benefits and challenges of advancing environmental policy and science outreach in places like his home state of West Virginia and is committed to making a difference,” said Wooten. “I’m thrilled for him to gain this recognition as a future ‘change agent’ by the Truman Foundation. As a Truman Scholar, he will gain the critical support and network to help him become a leader who works to shape more informed policy discussions and prepare future generations to tackle the most salient environmental issues of our time.”