Michaela Knox (left) and Ashni Bhojwani (right)

Michaela Knox (left) and Ashni Bhojwani (right)
Image Credit: Office of Major Fellowships

Two students from the sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department and psychology department are finalists for the prestigious Truman Scholarship.

Michaela Knox and Ashni Bhojwani were two of 190 candidates from 136 colleges and universities selected as finalists for the Truman Scholarship. They are the only finalists from South Carolina.

The Truman Scholarship, named in honor of the late U.S. President Harry S. Truman, is given to high-achieving college students who show commitment to public service and potential to continue that service beyond graduation. The scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study in public service fields and leadership training.

This year, the Truman Foundation received 773 applications from 316 colleges and universities, and finalists were selected based on their records of leadership, public service and academic achievement, said Robyn Curtis, director of Clemson’s Office of Major Fellowships. The Office of Major Fellowships opened in July of 2018 to provide a centralized hub to offer support and guidance to major fellowship candidates.

In recent years, Clemson has had one Truman Scholarship recipient. In 2017, Killian McDonald won the Truman Scholarship, becoming Clemson’s first recipient since 1978. Curtis said that this is the second year in a row that Clemson has had a finalist for the Truman Scholarship, and it is the first time Clemson has ever had multiple finalists.

“Ashni and Michaela are both dedicated student leaders who are making a difference in the Clemson community and beyond,” Curtis said. “They both engaged with the application process very meaningfully and created deeply personal applications reflecting their dedication to social justice reform. I’m absolutely delighted to have them both recognized as finalists.”

Knox is pursuing a double major in criminal justice and sociology. She serves on the executive committee for Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity. She is also a mentor for Clemson Hope, a program that allows college students to mentor elementary school students. During the summer of 2019, she interned with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee working on topics including voting access, congressional incumbent reelection and campaign finance.

Knox said she aspires to focus on prison reform and litigation and hopes to one day serve in public office. This scholarship would be a way for her to realize her dreams.

“When I first found out I was a finalist I was extremely grateful for all the help I had received through the Office of Major Fellowships as well as the Clemson community,” Knox said. “After an entire semester of application revisions, it felt like I was one step closer to achieving my goals of entering a career in public service.”

Born in Belize and immigrating to the United States as a child, Bhojwani is determined to serve underrepresented groups. Her experience as an immigrant and biracial woman living in South Carolina is her motivation to work and volunteer with vulnerable groups in her community. In the summer of 2019, she interned with the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), a nonprofit that works to end the prosecution, sentencing and incarceration of youth in the United States and found inspiration for her career.

Bhojwani has been involved with the Clemson Undergraduate Student Government for six semesters. At Clemson, she is working towards a dual degree in criminal justice and psychology, and after graduation, plans to pursue a law degree with an emphasis on public interest law. She wants to challenge institutionalized racism on a systemic level and continue her work with social justice issues and criminal justice reform. Being selected as a finalist is an honor, Bhojwani said, and the scholarship would help her achieve her career goals.

“Realizing that all my hard work had earned me a seat at such an important table was by far one of the most exciting and rewarding moments of my life,” Bhojwani said. “It made me realize that it is just the beginning of my journey into the realm of public service.”

Katherine Weisensee, chair of the sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department, said she is proud of the work these students have done and how they have represented Clemson at a national level.

“The Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice is very proud of this recognition for Michaela and Ashni,” Weisensee said. “They are both exemplary students who have dedicated themselves to their goals and achieved success in their academic careers. Their outstanding accomplishments are a great representation for our department and the university.”

The Truman Scholarship finalists will be interviewed by the Truman Foundation’s Regional Review Panels between March 1 and April 6, and the 2020 Class of Truman Scholars will be announced on April 15.

Students interested in applying for the Truman Scholarship or other major fellowships should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or fellowships@clemson.edu