April 1, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 13

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    [janel mueller] by matthew gilson

    Another Chicago student becomes Truman scholar

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    A sign posted in Catherine Potter’s dance classroom: “Jazz dance at its best. How would you look if you were at your best?” is a message this third-year student accepts as a challenge. Performing at your best––as a dancer and as a student––has its rewards, as Potter has learned.

    For challenging herself and others inside and outside the classroom, Potter has been awarded a Truman Scholarship, named in honor of the president whose favorite prayer asks, “Help me to be, to think, to act what is right.”

    Potter will use the $30,000 scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in gender policy, studying the effects of welfare and educational programs on women. Potter, an English major and political science minor, is interested in a future career as a U.S. government policymaker, promoting gender equality and focusing on the needs of disadvantaged families.

    Potter’s immediate plans include participation in a three-day Illinois Women in Government Program in Springfield, Ill., where she will learn about women who work in this realm of public service.

    The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation grants scholarships to American college students who are “change agents”––individuals likely to make a difference through careers in public service. This year, 75 American college students received scholarships.

    Earlier this year, Louis Blair, executive secretary of the foundation, awarded the Truman Foundation Honor Institution Award to the University for its exemplary work in recognizing and encouraging excellent candidates for the scholarship. Blair said the University “works with the students to help them get the best sense of who they are and how they can contribute.” The University has had a total of 15 Truman Scholars.

    When Potter is not singing in the University Chorus, writing for the Chicago Maroon or studying in Harper library, she is mentoring students through the Washington Park Youth Program, educating her peers about healthy choices through the student-run Sexual Violence Prevention Resource Center, and coordinating volunteers for Student Teachers, the after-school mentoring program she expanded to now serve 100 youths on Chicago’s South Side.

    Potter’s focus on women’s issues emerged from her Summer Links internship with Southwest Women Working Together, where she continues to volunteer. “I had never knowingly met a mother on welfare or talked personally with a woman who was physically abused by her husband,” Potter said. “I was able to put a face to many of the statistics I had read. Suddenly, feminism meant more than fostering my own independence, it meant actively helping other women realize their full potential.”

    Potter believes shaping successful policies on welfare, childcare, workplace discrimination and education will promote gender equality and foster healthier, cross-gender relationships. In her scholarship application, she noted studies revealing that women and children make up the vast majority of Americans living in poverty; women’s median weekly salary is significantly less than men’s, and schools shortchange girls with the instruction and praise that makes for academic confidence and success.

    “To foster gender equality, we clearly need to provide females with the educational and vocational tools necessary to become self-sufficient through opportunities equal to those that males enjoy,” said Potter.

    Kirby Callam, senior administrator of the Center for School Improvement, has been impressed by Potter’s mentoring in the Washington Park Youth Program. “Catherine has a level of patience and commitment that far exceeds typical volunteer involvement,” said Callam. “Over the past three years, she has developed a very special relationship with her student, she constantly suggests ideas to improve the program––and this is in addition to her work with Student Teachers. She walks the talk.”

    Congress established the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 as the official federal memorial to honor the 33rd U.S. President and his commitment to public service. The foundation awards scholarships to college students who have outstanding leadership potential, who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service and who wish to attend graduate school in preparation for their careers.