An Emory & Henry College junior has been selected as a finalist for the Truman Scholarship, a prestigious student award that supports individuals committed to leadership, public service and academic achievement.
Ali Hillman, a cross-cultural psychology major from Weston, Mass., is one of approximately 200 applicants from 130 institutions across the country to be named a finalist by the Truman Foundation.
Faculty representatives at more than 400 institutions of higher education were asked to identify college juniors who are of superior academic quality, and more than 700 nominated candidates completed the application process. Candidates are asked to demonstrate clear public policy goals for their future careers and a commitment to public service.
About one-third of the finalists will ultimately be named Truman Scholars. Hillman will participate in final round interviews for the Truman Scholarship in Boston in April. The final slate of 2016 Truman Scholars will be announced on April 22.
Along with financial support for graduate school, scholars will attend a week-long program that builds community among the selected students and ensures deep mentoring from alumni of the program. Truman Scholars also are asked to spend three months to two years in Washington, DC in positions with the federal government or with nationally focused nonprofit organizations.
David Haney, vice president for academic affairs, has worked closely with Hillman on several projects since her first year on campus.
It was immediately clear that she was a leader in every sense: intellectually, socially, ethically and politically.Dr. David HaneyVice President for Academic Affairs
Her course of study reflects her passion for change, especially in promoting recognition and understanding of neurodiversity, which can be boiled down to a belief that all learning profiles, processing speeds, interactive modes and personal rhythms have value.
“It is a movement that ranks diversity of brains on par with racial diversity, ethnic diversity, and other essential forms of human variation,” Hillman explained.
This passion to help people extends beyond the classroom. Just this past year, Hillman served as the organizing force behind Emory & Henry’s "Festival de la Primavera," an event for migrant farm workers that brought Mexican and Latin American families from across the agricultural belt of Southwest Virginia to an opportunity to receive free medical, dental and vision care from area doctors.
Known by some as “the student who never sleeps,” Hillman also has shared her leadership skills and passion for the outdoors as a former trip leader for the College’s outdoor program. Today, her voice is often heard leading conversations in residence halls about neurodiversity, proposing to administrators’ ideas about improving and diversifying student life, or championing the Honors Program’s first-year orientation.
“Neurodiversity in higher education is so essential and so exciting to me because it is the marriage of student affairs and academia,” Hillman said. “If we seek to give everyone an opportunity to succeed in college, then we need to acknowledge the diversity of learning profiles and the necessity of a holistic approach to the student experience. We need to begin promoting discussion about how we learn and not just what we learn.”
“She stands out even among a community of socially committed, energetic and academically high-achieving students,” Lane said. “She has served as a very effective ambassador for the institution in several capacities, and I can think of no one who would better serve as an example of the kind of student that Emory & Henry cultivates and prepares for public leadership.”
Hillman's future will be, she hopes, an extension of the foundation she has created at Emory & Henry. She hopes to earn two master’s degrees from Harvard University and then a doctorate focusing on neurodiversity inclusion. Rather than seeing this lead to a high-profile medical or public policy career, Hillman says she would like to enter the profession of student affairs where she feels she can be most effective in changing lives, policies and institutions.
If we can alter and enhance the way we approach understanding our brains in a living and learning environment, we can begin to create scaffolding for all people to reach their full learning potential. If institutions of higher education can begin to set models for neurodiversity inclusion, it is one of my sincerest hopes that public policy supporting said inclusion will then become a national priority.Ali HillmanTruman Scholarship Finalist
Photo Courtesy of Jessica Myer