From a field of 700 to 800 applicants, two UT students have been selected to compete for the nationally renowned Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

Eric Dixon, a senior in philosophy, economics, sociology and global studies, and Lindsay Lee, a junior in mathematics and Spanish, have been chosen as finalists to receive one of the 60-65 awards that are handed out annually.

The scholarship provides up to $30,000 toward graduate school for students who want to pursue a career in public service.

“Regardless of whether I get this or not, I want to go into public service, I'm certain of it,” Dixon said. “I want to work either for a non-profit or in the government sector ... basically what the Truman would do would almost kick-start my career. I would be able to network with people I might not meet at the beginning of my career, and I would be able to go to graduate school hopefully debt free or with less debt."

Lee applied under the recommendation of a professor, and found that it helped her hone in on potential career paths.

“Once I got into the process it really helped me really plan out what I wanted to do,” she said. “I … fell into it by accident but it really served a really big purpose for me.”

The application for the award asks several specific questions but does not provide lots of answer space, so candidates are forced to be clear and concise in their answers.

"It was very frustrating but very rewarding for me,” Dixon said of the process.

Nichole Fazio-Veigel, an assistant director in the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships who has worked with Dixon and Lee since last fall, reiterated the time the duo has put in throughout the process.

“They've been working hard. It's not just a personal statement,” Fazio-Veigel said of the application process. “It's pretty significant."

Part of that process required candidates to submit a public service policy proposal. Dixon submitted a proposal that would benefit the Appalachian area.

“My policy proposal has a lot to do with the research project I'm doing as a Baker Scholar,” he said. “It’s on growing the green economy of Appalachia. I chose to do that project because I see the green economy and a shift to renewable energy as more (of an) opportunity."

He believes more sustainable practices might help transform the region's rampant unemployment and poor health indicators.

"I see the green economy as an opportunity to combat those, while also dealing with and solving these environmental issues,” he said.

Lee, who uses a motorized wheelchair herself, elected to do her proposal on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Right now, despite needing the most care, they receive the least,” she said. “People just have attitude problems or practitioners aren't aware of the requirements under the ADA, or the hospitals might not be physically accessible.”

Lee's proposal would mandate a posting inside every facility which would notify patients that they are entitled to equal care under the ADA and offering contact information to those who feel they've been discriminated against.

In preparation for their upcoming interviews, Fazio-Veigel and other faculty members are working with Dixon and Lee. The Truman Scholarship has a notoriously vigorous interview process, and Fazio-Veigel said they are attempting to replicate that atmosphere.

“The interviews usually focus on their polices,” Fazio-Veigel said. “But questions can come out of thin air. We really try to encourage students to use that time as the moment they get to talk about what they care most about to a really interested group of people."

The interview and final decisions are still several weeks away, but Dixon and Lee are already benefiting from the experience.

“I could not even go to the interview and [still] be like 'Yes, I totally gained from it because I know it will save me so much time later,’” Dixon said. “It will help me in the short and long term because I will have thought about what I want to do.”

If either or both of the UT finalists earns the scholarship, Fazio-Veigel the benefits go far beyond financial and academic opportunities.

“The Truman is very good at building a community within their scholars,” she said. “They'll go participate in a summer institute in D.C. and a lot of times that results in internships. And they're also really well positioned to compete for other types of things."

Dixon and Lee will participate in an interview in Nashville on March 27 and will find out if they are selected shortly after.