WALLA WALLA, Wash.— Joseph Bornstein ’08 has received a $30,000 Truman Scholarship for graduate study, awarded by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability and the likelihood of “making a difference” through his work.

He is one of only 65 scholars to receive a Truman award this year from 585 candidates across the country.

Bornstein, a philosophy major from Ashland, Ore., is well-known on the Whitman campus for his community activism and service. During the 2004-2005 academic year, Bornstein spearheaded the Build-A-House Project, which raised money to construct a home for a Nicaraguan mother and her son left destitute when a fishing accident claimed her husband, who had befriended Bornstein during his travels to Central America. In addition to raising the money for the effort, Bornstein and six friends traveled to Nicaragua to build the house, which now provides a stable livelihood (through rental income) for the widow and her son.

While building the house in Nicaragua, Bornstein witnessed the devastating impacts of petroleum dependence in Central America. In the fall of 2005, he and fellow Whitman student Curt Bowen founded Whitman Direct Action, whose mission was “to aid marginalized communities by promoting opportunity via sustainable development.” To that end, as Bornstein explains, “the group united around the shared vision of a Central American biodiesel network in support of sustainable, community-based growth and independence.” After much discussion and research, particularly with non-governmental organizations, the group planned a three-pronged project.

The first prong, biodiesel education, called for Bornstein and his group to host biodiesel conferences in Honduras and Nicaragua. The second, aimed at fostering a long-term biodiesel infrastructure, proposed two biodiesel cooperatives and two resource centers. The third, information availability, called for a biodiesel manual.

In their travels to three Central American countries, Bornstein and colleagues in Whitman Direct Action built and then taught community leaders how to build a biodiesel processor. They wrote and translated into Spanish a 110-page technical manual about biodiesel production and organized a successful three-day biodiesel conference in Santa Barbara, Honduras.

“The biodiesel project was a response to gas prices and much, much more,” Bornstein said. “The idea was to foster community independence and empowerment. It was not just about the economics; it was about a way of life.”

Bornstein plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration through Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. The aim of the program, he said, is to train public managers and policymakers who can develop innovative solutions to environmental issues.

“The Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy is a perfect match for me,” said Bornstein, “because it recognizes the intricate difficulties of establishing a sustainable biosphere by taking a cross-disciplinary approach.”

Although he has no set plans, after his graduate studies Bornstein hopes to co-found an NGO focused on environmental and social research, consulting, educational outreach and strategic influence. “My aspiration for this NGO is that it becomes international, influencing the world through direct action and public policy design and implementation,” he wrote in his Truman application.