UNC junior Sam Zahn was selected as the 2021 recipient for the Truman scholarship — making him the second UNC student to receive the award since 2013.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation awards about 60 selected scholars up to $30,000 each year to put toward future careers in government or elsewhere in public service.
According to its website, the foundation seeks individuals who are “change agents” — people who aspire to leadership positions in federal, state or local governments, or in the nonprofit and education sectors where they can influence public policies and change public programs.
Zahn, a history and political science major, is the president of the Chabad Student Group at UNC-CH. As a leader, he also created the University’s first course entirely dedicated to discussing antisemitism.
“This year, Sam stood out,” Inger Brodey, director of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships, said. “With his maturity and strive toward his focused interests, like creating the first course on discussing antisemitism — that set him apart.”
Zahn said his creation of Jewish Studies 390 came after he experienced antisemitic incidents on campus. His first year at the University, a rapper was invited to perform at the Conflict Over Gaza conference hosted by UNC and Duke University. The rapper performed what he called “my antisemitic song,” which Zahn said was a jarring experience for himself and other Jewish students.
In response, Zahn met with administration and worked with history graduate student Max Lazar to put this course together.
“Hopefully it'll run through a third year next year,” Zahn said. “It’s just an absolutely amazing course that draws from all of these different UNC academic departments. We get guest speakers every week. That’s been, I think, my most fulfilling campus endeavor.”
With this scholarship, Zahn also has opportunities to get an internship and have tight networking connections, Chrisy Hayden, program assistant for the ODS, said.
The process to receive this scholarship is rigorous. Students have to be nominated by UNC and go through a process through the ODS in order to receive the University’s endorsement. Students then submit their applications before finalists are announced.
Stephanie Schmitt, associate dean for academics, was one of the selection committee chairpersons for the Truman Scholarship.
She said that the committee was extremely impressed with Zahn's record of achievement, community service and passion for inclusion and equity.
“The scholarship will enable him to attend law school to further his professional goals, but more importantly, it will surround him with a group of like-minded scholars that will challenge and connect him on a wide range of issues affecting our society,” Schmitt said. “We are thrilled with Sam’s selection and cannot wait to see what he does next.”
With this scholarship, Zahn said he plans not only to put it toward law school but also toward uplifting Jewish communities and other communities that have faced violence and oppression.
He said he hopes to continue advocating and standing in solidarity with these communities during and after law school.
“Anything that can put me in a capacity to not only work to uplift my community, but do it in a way that helps uplift other really great communities as well, that would be something I think is really fulfilling and special to me,” Zahn said.
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