by Sheryl Marlar

As the 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman often spoke on the importance of promoting young leaders and envisioned a program that would encourage political responsibility.

Rickia StaffordThat vision led to the establishment of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975. Today, Rickia Stafford, a forward-looking political science major at the University of West Georgia, is a finalist for a Truman Scholarship.

Chosen from 773 applications from 316 institutions in the country, Stafford is one of only four students chosen as finalists in Georgia.

Stafford, a first-generation college student from Smyrna, chose to blaze her career path in political science at UWG because she wanted a close-knit community that wasn’t too far from home and her family support system.

“I also chose UWG because I wanted to be in a program where I would be known for my merit,” Stafford began. “Also, I was drawn to the track and field program that I participated in my first year here.”

Stafford said she wanted to major in political science so she could learn the system in order to bring about change and let others know how important it is to be civically engaged. Her motivation to do this comes from her brother, who has been incarcerated since he was 14.

“Without my personal experiences from those hardships, I wouldn’t be on the path that I’m on today,” Stafford added.

President Gerald Ford signed the Act of Congress in 1975 that authorized the Truman Foundation to “award scholarships to persons who demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service,” and to conduct nationwide competitions to select scholars.

Kate Theobald, manager of UWG’s Office of Undergraduate Research, met Stafford at the 2019 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) where she was presenting her paper titled "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine: How Child Social Service Agencies Can Take Preventive Steps to Reduce Juvenile Delinquency."

“We discussed her future academic plans between presentations and she immediately struck me as a potential Truman applicant, so I encouraged her to explore the Truman Scholarship,” Theobald explained. “We are so proud that she has been selected as a finalist. Stafford is an outstanding young person and scholar, and I believe she is absolutely deserving of the Truman Scholarship. She is passionate about her studies and about making tangible, positive change for at-risk youth in our state. She is a leader and a change-agent.”

After graduation, Stafford plans to pursue a juris doctor and master of social work (JD/MSW) dual degree with a concentration in social work leadership at Florida State University.

“After law school, I intend to have a career in policy reform by joining a public interest firm such as the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Stafford said. “Within this role, I will be able to fight policies that put certain juveniles at a disadvantage through mechanisms such as the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Dr. Chapman Rackaway, professor and chair of political science, is proud of Stafford’s selection as a finalist, as well as the drive, compassion and leadership she exemplifies.

“She brings not only a deep intellect but an exceptional ability to engage people and motivate them to do great things,” Rackaway said. “Whether it’s thoughtful participation in classes or her vital student voice and people-organizing skills in the American Democracy Project, she has truly established herself as a uniquely gifted young leader. Her selection as a Truman Scholar finalist is a fitting recognition of the significant impact she has already had and will continue to have.”

Following an interview process with the foundation’s regional review panels, the 2020 class of Truman Scholars will be named on April 15.

For more information on Truman Scholarships, visit the Truman Scholarship Foundation’s website.

Posted on April 2, 2020