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Truman Scholarship Opens Door to a Life of Service

Meet three Whitman alums and see how this prestigious postgraduate opportunity shaped their unique careers

By Tara Roberts

Every summer, recent college graduates from across the country arrive in Washington, D.C., ready to change the world.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation selects exceptional college students who are committed to a career in public service to become Truman Scholars. In addition to the Summer Institute, where they participate in internships and gain behind-the-scenes experience with policymaking and nonprofit advocacy, Truman Scholars are awarded up to $30,000 to support their graduate studies in a public service field.

In the last 40-plus years, only a dozen Whitman College graduates have earned the Truman. In 2008 and 2009, three Truman scholars crossed the commencement stage on their way to lives of service and purpose. 

Past Truman Scholars from Whitman have followed varying paths since graduation. Let’s see where life has taken those three Truman Scholars from the early 2000s.

What they share: A dedication to making a difference—rooted in the skills and values they learned through the Truman program and at Whitman.

Caitlin Schoenfelder ’09

Caitlin Schoenfelder

Pursuing Purpose in Education Policy

When Caitlin Schoenfelder was completing her Truman Scholars application, she encountered a question about her plans: What did she hope to do, and what position did she hope to have five to seven years later?

At the time, her answer felt made-up. Now, her career supporting children and their families through programs and policy is remarkably like what she wrote.

“I think the Truman application process helps push you to create a vision for yourself early on,” Schoenfelder says. “Mission-driven work is something that I have always been drawn to, and public-sector work often has that ingrained, so it made sense to me to pursue the Truman even though my career path didn’t feel clear.”

Where It All Started 

Schoenfelder came to Whitman from La Grande, Oregon, and majored in Politics with a minor in Latin American Studies. In her second year, she participated in a community-based research seminar and project through the Politics Department, studying the achievement gap for Latino students in Washington. 

This sparked her interest in education and set off a domino effect of opportunities.

“The experience powerfully bridged theory and practice. I was able to look at a local social issue and bring intellectual curiosity and research to identify solutions,” she says. “That was thrilling as a sophomore.”

Schoenfelder presented her research in Olympia, worked for the Washington State Education Ombudsman, participated in and led trips for Whitman’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, and organized experiential learning trips for fellow students to study immigration issues in the Pacific Northwest. 

At the Truman Summer Institute after graduation in 2009, she continued to explore how education could mitigate social inequality, interning in community engagement for Michelle Rhee, then Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.

Schoenfelder loved D.C. and stayed for a full year in the capital through the Truman-Albright Fellows Program. The next year, she melded her education policy and Latin American Studies experience in a fellowship through Princeton in Latin America to work on a national education initiative in Mexico.

Continuing to build on her passion for education, she earned her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and spent five years as a classroom teacher before shifting to policy work. She then used her Truman money to earn her Master of Public Affairs from Princeton University and began a career focused on early childhood care and education.

She worked as a consultant to help states develop long-term investment strategies in comprehensive early childhood education, then moved to New York City, where she became the Child Care Policy Lead for the New York City Department of Education.

Making a Difference Closer to Home 

In 2022, Schoenfelder returned to Washington state, where she works for the federal Administration for Children and Families. Through the Office of Child Care, an $11.6 billion national program, she provides support for Oregon and Washington states and Washington tribes receiving grants to help low-income families access affordable child care and improve the quality of early childhood care and education.

Through this range of experiences, Schoenfelder has seen the power of creating policy that promotes equity and high-quality services for children and their communities—the dream she first imagined as a Whitman student applying to be a Truman Scholar.

“There is opportunity to make social impact in the private sector, but when you work in public service, you can often be more hands-on with both developing policies and systems as well as implementation,” she says. “I have always enjoyed being closer to the impact as opposed to influencing from the outside.”

Erica Goad ’09

Erica Goad

From Inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway to the Alaska Wilds

Love of the outdoors drew Erica Goad to Whitman from her home in Golden, Colorado.

She majored in Biology and Environmental Studies, worked in the Outdoor Program, and lived for a year in Tamarac House, an outdoors-themed residence. 

As a junior, she studied ecology and did fieldwork in Namibia through an ecology-focused program called Round River Conservation Studies, and as a senior, she explored the diversity of Western American lands and people through Semester in the West.

Ready To Protect the Planet

Goad sought out everything outdoors—and she also saw herself seeking work that mattered for the planet.

“I have this space that I love and appreciate, and then I see problems,” she says. “I wanted to ask what we can do to think about solutions to those problems.”

Her parents had careers in public service, so she was intrigued by the Truman Scholarship. She knew the program’s internship component would help her explore whether she wanted to pursue a career in environmental law and policy or focus on science.

At the Summer Institute in 2009, Goad was thrilled to meet fellow scholars and gain an inside look into the national political process. But she also learned about the intensity of working in policymaking.

As an intern at the Center for American Progress, she advocated for Congress to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

“There’s all this energy, and all the youth climate activists were excited, and it looks like we’re finally going to do something about climate change,” she says. “It passed the House, and everyone cheered—and then it went to the Senate and just died.”

Into the Wild for Work That Matters

Goad stayed in Washington, D.C., a bit longer, completing a second internship at the Union of Concerned Scientists, but determined that national-level policymaking wasn’t for her. She decided to follow her science interests and headed back out West, working as a wildlife technician in Idaho and Arizona. 

She used her Truman money to earn her master’s in Ecology at Colorado State University. After graduating, she pursued public service work that was wildly different than her experience in D.C. 

After some time with land conservation nonprofits, she moved to Alaska and became a dog musher and guide for the National Park Service, then spent several years conducting forest research on climate change and wildfire for the Forest Service. 

Exploring New Environmental Frontiers 

Goad recently moved back to the lower 48 and pivoted to a new career in the business world, as Manager of Development for a solar company, Balanced Rock Power. The lessons she learned as a Truman Scholar continue to guide her.

“I’m not technically in public service anymore, but my Truman experience did help bring me to a place of wanting to do work that matters, work that informs policy, changes management decisions, or brings the community up and forward into environmental solutions,” she says.

“The Truman Scholarship was hugely impactful for me, and I’m so grateful that I got the support from Whitman staff and my professors,” she says, “not only because the Truman Scholarship helped pay for grad school but, most importantly, for the opportunities it afforded me and the people I was able to meet. It really expanded my horizons.”

Joseph Bornstein ’08

Joseph Bornstein

Putting Big Ideas into Action

Joseph Bornstein’s inspiration for pursuing a life of service got its first seeds planted during a gap year in Nicaragua between high school in Ashland, Oregon, and attending Whitman. 

A man he befriended during that time, Alix, died a few months after Bornstein returned to the States and started college.

In his grief, he decided to rally friends to help fulfill one of Alix’s dreams. Alix and his wife had inherited land but couldn’t afford to build on it. Bornstein hoped building a home would give Alix’s wife and 3-year-old son more financial security.

When Bornstein and the team he gathered—students from Whitman and his hometown—flew to Nicaragua to help with the build, they encountered many people in need and witnessed the vulnerability and volatility of the country’s economy. 

It was a transformative experience for Bornstein. He recognized the limits of the team’s efforts in the face of systemic problems but also realized that he could contribute in meaningful ways.

Building Confidence in the Power of Change

Back in Walla Walla, he founded Whitman Direct Action, a student organization dedicated to promoting economically and environmentally sustainable development.

“I wanted to give students the opportunity to make a real difference and, in so doing, build an enduring sense of resolve and self-belief,” he says.

As Bornstein shared this message with others, his professors reinforced it for him.

“Because the school was so focused on being a teaching institution, it helped me have the chutzpah to believe … ‘I have ideas that are meaningful, that contribute intellectually and creatively to the wider world,’” he says.

When he heard about the Truman Scholarship, it sounded like an amazing opportunity to build on his experiences and meet other community- and action-oriented people.

At the Summer Institute in 2008, Bornstein interned for the World Resources Institute, building a starter kit to support new nongovernmental organizations in emerging economies. That fall, he co-founded Semilla Nueva—a nonprofit aiding rural Guatemalan farmers—with fellow Whittie Curt Bowen ’08. 

Becoming a Founder for Causes

Bornstein eventually moved to Israel to start his own consulting agency for nonprofits and social ventures.

“During that consulting, I realized that it wasn’t just me that struggled with online fundraising as a nonprofit founder, that at a chronic level, nonprofits are lacking the tools and the resources and the know-how to effectively fundraise,” he says. “There’s a massive amount of money that is being left on the table—in my view, billions of dollars in charitable giving.”

In 2017, Bornstein became the founder and CEO of CauseMatch, which helps nonprofits in the United States and around the world plan and execute effective crowdfunding campaigns. 

In the company’s early days, he bounced ideas off some of the friends he met as a Truman scholar, some of whom had also pursued nonprofit careers.

“That gave me a lot of confidence that I had validated what I was seeing and that I had good insights that could make a serious impact on challenges nonprofits are facing,” he says.

Bornstein also received a Watson Institute Fellowship while at Whitman, which helped him gain entrepreneurial skills and further confidence to pursue his passion at CauseMatch.

“I think at the end of the day, all these programs, they’re looking for somebody who believes that they have ideas worth thinking and ideas worth sharing,” he says. “I think that my time at Whitman really helped me believe in myself in that way, which set me up for that type of success.”

Service & Education Matter

With the ever-increasing complexity of local, national and global problems, the world needs young people who are interested in public service more than ever.

“If you feel strongly about an issue, then public service is a way for you to get in there and ... help solve those issues,” Goad says. 


Whitman continues to be a great place to prepare public leaders, Bornstein says. “The teachers all were focused on helping you hone your thinking skills and believe in your ability, your value to contribute as a thinker, as a creative.”

Through a liberal arts education, Whitman students can grow in ways that will prepare them to change the world, Schoenfelder says. 

“One thing that Whitman does really well is provide support for students to do great things without needing to compete with each other. Making an impact requires collaboration, negotiation and practical problem-solving much more than individual achievement.” 

Whitman Truman Scholars Through the Years

  • Todd Moffett ’81
  • David Nord ’83
  • Paul Wuh ’88
  • Michael Mann ’91
  • Annee Worsham Hartzell ’92
  • Tamatha Richardson Schreinert ’92
  • Dan Le 
  • Nguyen-Tan ’96
  • Jordan Kirk Royal ’97
  • Bradley Bowen ’05
  • Joseph Bornstein ’08 
  • Erica Goad ’09
  • Caitlin Schoenfelder ’09

Today’s Scholars: Unlocking Career Potential

The Fellowships and Grants team at Whitman provides support to students and alumni in their search for opportunities.

In the last 15 years, 500+ Whitties have earned prestigious fellowships and grants, including 18 Watson Fellowships, 55 Fulbright awards, 43 Gilman International Scholarships and 33 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (as of February 2024).

Published on Feb 20, 2024
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